Intel Core i7-2820QM Mobile Sandy Bridge Processor

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About this time last year, Intel offered us a complete processor revamp and architecture update for both the desktop and mobile markets.  Intel called it their evolutionary "tick" step in their manufacturing process migration from 45 to 32nm.  The "tock," as it were, follows along in cadence offering refinement and feature enhancement that completes the product evolution.  So here we are, about 12 months or so later, and the "tock" cometh.  Intel's tock architecture, known as Sandy Bridge, is still based on 32nm manufacturing process technology but offers critical features and performance enhancement, as well as higher levels of architectural integration.  Intel is set launch a refresh of both desktop and mobile architectures and on the following pages here, we're aiming to give you a detailed view of what Sandy Bridge is going to bring for 2011 in the notebook arena.  If you haven't been by our desktop line-up coverage, do yourself a favor and bone-up on the details we offer there as well, for what you're about to see here is all about how Intel intends to enhance your mobile computing experience.

Intel's Core i7-2820QM processor is the vehicle that we'll be using as a means of evaluating Intel's new architecture.  It's not the highest-end SKU in the line-up but it has all the bells and whistles enabled and about 90% of top-end clock speed that Intel will offer in their "Extreme" version mobile chip.  In a 45 Watt power envelope, this is the Sandy Bridge chip you'll likely see in some of the more capable multimedia targeted notebooks coming to market in 2011.  And we'd dare say, at this early juncture, it packs a healthy serving of beef-cake computing muscle for just about anything you could throw at it.  But enough of the genuflecting, let's get a look at the specifics and then put Sandy Bridge mobile to the test.

Intel Sandy Bridge Mobile Processor - Click for high res.

Intel 2nd Gen Core Mobile Sandy Bridge Processor Detail
Specifications & Features

Cranking up the speeds and feeds, on the fly:
You'll have to excuse our cut-and-paste ways with the above eye-charts but in the interest of brevity we felt they laid things out nicely.  As you'll note, there are dual-core and quad-core variants of Sandy Bridge mobile processors, all of which have Intel's new Turbo Boost 2.0 dynamic overclocking at a single core granularity if required.  The Core i7-2820QM chip that we're testing today has a base clock of 2.3GHz with Turbo Boost speeds of 3.1GHz, 3.2GHz and 3.3GHz for quad-core, dual-core and single-core modes respectively.  Also note that integrated graphics cores, which are now resident on-die versus the previous gen Arrandale discrete die, multi-chip module design, also have dynamic clock gating that scales from 650MHz to 1.3GHz.  Finally, these new chips support Intel HyperThreading technology for up to 8 threads of processing resources in quad-core designs and 4-thread throughput in dual-core chips.

New engines under the hood:
All chips also support Intel's new AVX extension for increased SSE-based floating point performance as well as Intel AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) instructions for hardware-based encryption processing.  Another very significant feature add is Intel's new Quick Sync hardware video encode engine that offloads video file conversion in hardware (we'll cover more on this in detail shortly).  Finally, as is detailed in the bottom chart, Intel plans to release an entire family of low voltage and ultra low-voltage versions of Sandy Bridge that will drop into as little as a 17 Watt TDP power envelope.  These chips will provide serious direct competition for AMD's low power Zacate Fusion processor, at least with respect to AMD's 18 Watt variant of the chip. 

Let's look at chip-level and system-level architecture details next...

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SammyHayabuza 3 years ago

Holy Cow!! Wow, this chip is just freaking amazing!! I knew I had to stay awake a little longer tonight!

Amazing performance for this particular model over the last generation extreme mobile processor, plus better price, this just smokes everything else from the past generation.

WOW, 3.1 GHz on full load on all cores, 3.3 and two cores, 800ghz on Idle, incredible.

Quick Sync....Geezus!!

Edit: Excellent Review Dave!!

xylem 3 years ago

Nice Review Dave!! Cant wait for these things to come out!! I am in the market for a HP TM2T type device and it would be a great match for it!!

Dave_HH 3 years ago

Thanks folks! Yeah, these are impressive chips to be sure!

realneil 3 years ago

Looks like another pacesetter from Intel. I would love to be in the market for a new Laptop, and have the cash to get one of them, but it would have to have discrete graphics on it .

Sandy Bridge is impressive.

AMD, it's your turn,............

rapid1 3 years ago

Hmm; I would say yes and no for me personally, because of a couple of factors. Personally I do not forgive the SATA, and USB3 exclusion.  This is for a specific reason though as well as because they are missing. I am not saying I do not appreciate the chip, and capabilities of it. I am just saying on a personal level because I know in 6 months those will be included as well as more functionality. The more functionality also includes there new comm interface software/hardware as I think it is scheduled to be out in 6 as well on there boards, as is there new BIOS scheme on the PC side of things I think. With that in mind I could comfortably say I won't be buying an Intel processor for at least a year or on the next tock, not tick:)

3vi1 3 years ago

>> AMD, it's your turn,............

Exactly what I was thinking, RealNeil.

I do expect the AMD solution to perform better graphically. But, as both are still significantly behind an actual video card, I think I'd prefer the Intel solution for the desktop (and maybe the AMD in a laptop - if the hype doesn't turn out to be overinflated).

realneil 3 years ago

[quote user="3vi1"]as both are still significantly behind an actual video card[/quote]  Good Point!

There is a lot to be said for a discrete Video Card. Swapping them as we see fit, and upgrading them when we can afford to, (without replacing major components like your CPU and MainBoard) is a huge plus for gamers. For me, it's a concept that will probably live on forever.

It seems as though Sandy's brought some improved performance to the table that will please more of the masses. The video trans-coding capability must have been a target for Intel to go after this time around and they seem to have it nailed. All in all I think that they'll sell well, but I'm hoping that AMD throws down the gauntlet soon and gets a larger piece of the pie. We really need them around to help keep prices under control.

InfinityzeN1 3 years ago

Very nice review Dave, these are really interesting chips.  These will really make a big improvement over the 720 in my current laptop when I’m looking at upgrading later this year. 

However, the use of the phrase "Orders of magnitude" within the review makes no sense.  Orders would imply at least two, which would come out to a x100 increase in performance.  In the test that the phrase was used, not even a single order of magnitude (x10) was reached.  Maybe it is just the engineer in me, but that one phrase just seems to torque me the wrong way.  Great review otherwise.

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