Microprocessors have evolved a lot in the last decade. Starting with the launch in November, 2000 of the prolific Intel Pentium 4 Microprocessor, Intel has been at the forefront of microprocessor technology, giving us “bigger” and better processors ever since.
At first, these processors where the best that we had ever seen, but by today’s standards, they are very slow and power consuming. Now, Intel has brought us the newest technology available, in the form of the Intel Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. This top of the line microprocessor is a far cry from the early 180nm architectures, Intel managing to get it down to an impressive 22nm (even better than the previous 32nm Sandy Bridge).
Intel Ivy Bridge: Introduction Guide
Of course, this processor still has some of the elements of the Sandy Bridge, for example it retains the mounting socket LGA1155, therefore making it backwards-compatible with the Sandy Bridge (some firmware updates might be necessary for it to work on earlier LGA1155 motherboards). However, even if the Ivy Bridge is backwards-compatible with the Sandy Bridge, some features might not work without the new 7-series chipset that Intel is launching alongside the 13 new Ivy Bridge processors.
These 7-series motherboards will have four USB 3.0 and a pair of 6GB/s SATA ports natively installed, but it will be up to the other motherboard manufacturers to see what other features will be available. “What does this mean” You might ask. What advances really brings to the table this now and improved architecture?
The first thing is the new transistor technology, or what Intel calls “Tri-Gate” (or 3D) transistors. These were completely redesigned to a much more efficient configuration and also shrunken down from 32nm to 22nm. This design facilitates the current load of the transistors when the processor is in use and it provides a greater surface area for the current to pass, and also that the electrons are forcefully eliminated when not in use, making this design more power efficient.
Faster DDR3 Memory
And thanks to the smaller sized transistors, Intel managed to shrink the actual core of the processor to almost half the size of the previous cores. Another improvement comes in the form of faster DDR3 memory capabilities. As you might of known, the past processors where compatible to Dual Channel DDR3 at a stock frequency of 1333MHz. Although Ivy Bridge retains the Dual Channel configuration, it now has the ability to support 1600MHz DDR3 memory stock, with no overclock.
Improved Power Management
Power Management has been greatly improved in the new Ivy Bridge. And here is where we start to see the biggest advances this new line of processors has to offer. The smaller architecture and the multiple advances that the Ivy Bridge has make it more power efficient, thus better suited for mobile devices such as laptops or smartphones. A feature that Intel introduces in the Ivy Bridge is the Power Aware Interrupt Routing (PAIR).
PAIR is a protocol that allows the processor to actively modify between two states: power and performance, depending on the load of the processor making it more power efficient when not in use (the new and improved Intel Spread Spectrum Technology), and of course monitoring which part of the processor is working (the CPU or the GPU) and getting more power to the one that is used the most.
Intel states that the Ivy Bridge processor can be up to 60% more power efficient than earlier models, and compared to its Sandy Bridge counterpart, it has 20% more power and it drains 20% less energy for it.
Upgrades in Graphics
Another one of Intel’s main upgrades was in the graphics section. The Intel Ivy Bridge has native support for third generation PCI controllers (PCI Express 3.0) and also the integrated graphic processor has gotten a major overhaul. The now graphics processor can easily play 4K resolution videos very well (thus the name 4000 HD or 4K HD) and is DirectX 11 compatible. This last one is probably the best of all.
Even if it does not have the performances of aftermarket video cards, the Intel 4K can now play DirectX 11 with tessellation technology, making older video cards practically useless, even if it might not give high performance gaming, it can still get the job done to a certain level, and with tessellation, it does it even better. Also, there have been a few minor modification in the processor’s core. Such as Intel’s Digital Random Number Generator (DRNG) which will have an important role in the security of the processor, assigning random numbers for applications that require them.
Ivy Bridge Prices
These are in short the biggest upgrades that Ivy Bridge has received over the Sandy Bridge. Now, in terms of prices, it would seem that the 13 new processors will have similar prices as the Sandy Bridge (3.5GHz Core i7-3770K starting at somewhere around $300-$350).
As far as performance goes, in a standoff between the Sandy Bridge and the Ivy Bridge, the performance marks in benchmarks are not through the roof. The Ivy Bridge scores a bit better then the Sandy Bridge, but I think we will have to wait a little before we will see a major difference. Also, something that has caught my eye, is that the Ivy Bridge consumes less voltage than the earlier models (somewhere between 0.9V and 1.2V).
Also, the overclocking capabilities of the Ivy Bridge are quite good. With the Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 you can get it up to 3.9GHz and via the conventional way you can reach as high as 4.5GHz. But even when fully overclocked, the Ivy Bridge is much more power efficient than Sandy Bridge, sometimes up to 20-30%.
Should I Upgrade to Ivy Bridge?
Let me put it this way: if you own a Sandy Bridge processor, then you probably shouldn’t upgrade just yet. The performances are not that better in the Ivy Bridge (~10% better) and being at just about the same price, you won’t see a major performance boost. Also, until aftermarket motherboards come out equipped with the 7-series chipset, I wouldn’t recommend a transition.
If, on the other hand, you are planning to buy a new PC, then I would advise to go for the Ivy Bridge because it has great performance, superb power management and most of all, because of the possibility for upgrade in the future. Intel is probably going to upgrade them even more in the future, so it will be a great platform with USB 3.0, PCI Express 3.0 and 6GB/s SATA. All the new technology ready for you.
And there you have it: The new Intel Ivy Bridge processor. The newest and baddest that Intel Unleashed. And either you consider it good or useless, Ivy Bridge remains the trail blazer in microprocessor technology. The first 22nm Intel processor that has cutting edge technology and power management features. I see a bright future for this “little guy”, making its way to laptops and tablets, smartphones and who knows where else.