Intel focused on high-end, quad-core client processors for gamers, content creation and other apps at the event where the so-called ultrabooks were noticeably absent. The company plans to roll out lower voltage dual-core Ivy Bridge chips geared for ultrabooks in a few weeks.
“We have been moving capacity to the ultrabook [processor designs] to make sure the ramp is unconstrained as possible,” said Kirk Skaugen, the newly named head of Intel’s PC client systems group.
Skaugen said OEMs have 21 designs in the works for the 18mm thin ultrabooks and as many as 100 more in earlier planning stages. The “ultra-dense” systems use “mechanical [designs] never seen in an x86 system before,” he said.
It’s typical for CPU makers to roll out a full design first and a “chopped” version of the SoC with fewer cores later, said Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with the Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.). Nevertheless, he express some surprise Intel did not tailor any of its quad-core chips for a perhaps slightly thicker ultrabook design.
Intel said a third of the 1.4 billion transistors in the new die are dedicated to its 3-D graphics cores, providing twice the performance of the graphics cores in Intel’s existing Sandy Bridge. The big question going forward will be whether AMD’s upcoming 32nm Trinity CPUs, expected within weeks, will maintain a lead over Intel in graphics performance, Krewell said.
Intel’s rivals churn out more quickly software drivers optimized for their graphics designs, a key factor in getting good GPU performance, he said.
“AMD and Nvidia deliver new graphics drivers every couple months, often with each major new game,” Krewell said. “Intel started increasing its focus on graphics drivers with Sandy Bridge, but it has not caught up with the rivals yet,” he added.
In terms of hardware, Intel increased the number of graphics execution engines in its design from 12 to 16. The move was part of a re-architecting of the graphics core to better compete with AMD, breaking with Intel’s tradition of not changing process technology and chip design at the same time.
Intel is poised for another leap in graphics performance with its next-generation family called Haswell, a new microarchitecture optimized for the 22nm process. Skaugen said Haswell is on target for 2013.
Beyond Haswell, Intel plans to return to a tick-tock model, updating process technology in one generation and design in the next. Skaugen called the move to a new graphics architecture in tandem with the new 22nm process “an educated risk” on Intel’s part.
Ivy Bridge and its associated I/O chips now also support PCI Express 3.0, USB 3.0 and, optionally, Thunderbolt, a high speed interconnect based on PCI Express 2.0. Skaugen said 21 Thunderbolt devices are now in the market and predicted there will be 100 by the end of the year and hundreds by the end of 2013.
“Thunderbolt is moving from the Apple platform to Windows and multiple PC platforms,” he said.
The chips also embed a number of new security features including Intel Insider, a hardware-based video copyright protection technology Skaugen said will be supported by movie services such as Cinema Now. It will be used for streaming movies over a new low latency version of Intel’s Wi-Di, a Wi-Fi variant for short-range video links.
In total, Intel rolled out 13 quad-core Ivy Bridge processors, ten associated I/O chips and five Centrino wireless devices. The CPUs include single- and dual-threaded CPUs with 6 or 8 Mbytes L3 cache. They range in power consumption from about 35 to 77W and in price from about $174 to $1,096.
Ultrabook versions of Ivy Bridge chips are coming in two months said Kirk Skaugen.