|Introductions and Specifications|
You might say Intel has been absolutely killing it as of late. Whether you consider their recent earnings announcement beating Wall Street's expectations, the Ultrabook craze, their re-entrance into the handset arena with their Medfield platform, or the proliferation of their 2nd generation Core Sandy Bridge-based processors in the market; it's perfectly clear the company is in an execution groove that will fuel both their own growth as well as industry growth for some time to come. In short, Intel has been a design execution machine recently and when you put that into perspective with their world-class semiconductor manufacturing prowess, the company packs a seriously competitive punch.
7 Series chipset platform, it's as if we've been hearing about Ivy Bridge for what seems like an eternity, at least in terms of tech years. Incidentally, the Ivy Bridge logo above was created by the Ivy Bridge design team; apparently they were a little fired-up too. In any event, today is the day that Intel's long rumored and hyped Ivy Bridge 3rd Generation Core processors get real and we've got the full lowdown for you.
Marco has full coverage of Intel's Ivy Bridge desktop processors over here and on the following pages in this piece, I'll be covering all things Ivy Bridge mobile. We heard the "Tick" of Intel's Sandy Bridge processor that ushered in a new chip architecture at 32nm. Today Intel steps out with their "Tock" follow-on product, the 22nm-built Ivy Bridge Core processor with integrated Intel HD 4000 series graphics. Coupled with the H77 series chipset for mobile products, we've got an entirely new notebook platform architecture to sink our teeth into, so let's dig in.
If you scan through the specification and features list, Ivy Bridge represents architectural enhancements and tweaks (versus entirely new architecture) almost across the board. Note that Ivy Bridge Turbo Boost speeds bins are now higher, at a full 1GHz for single core boosts, 900MHz for dual-core and 800MHz for a quad-core Tubro Boost. The Core i7-3720QM that we tested will scale all the way up to 3.6GHz under single-threaded workloads.
By far, one of the most radically enhanced parts of the architecture would be Intel's new HD Graphics 4000 engine which now delivers full DirectX 11 rendering capabilities, even faster Intel Quick Sync video transcoding technology and a claimed 2x performance increase in gaming. Actually, we'd go so far as to say that Intel's new HD 4000 Graphics core could finally put Intel's integrated solution on a more level playing field with lower-end discrete mobile graphics cores from AMD and NVIDIA, as well as AMD's forthcoming integrated Fusion products (Trinity). More on that later, however.
The comparison grid above details the high-end of Intel's Ivy Bridge quad-core line-up, with the 55Watt Core i7-3920XM Extreme Edition quad-core leading the pack as Intel's flagship notebook CPU. The chip we'll be looking at today is the 45Watt Core i7-3720QM quad-core. This CPU has only 6MB of shared L3 cache, but has a full speed HD Graphics 4000 core on board, as well as Intel's new AES instructions for hardware assisted encryption processing, a faster Intel Quick Sync video transcoding engine and more.
The Asus N56VM 15-inch Notebook - Ivy Bridge Inside
Our test vehicle on the following pages, once again comes courtesy of our friends at Asus. Similar to Intel's Sandy Bridge launch, Intel chose a full-featured machine to showcase their latest mobile platform, with all its bells and whistles, including four ports of native USB 3.0 connectivity and a high res display with 1920x1080 native resolution. Let's take a closer look at Intel's Ivy Bridge mobile CPU and then zoom in a bit on the Asus N56VM.
|Intel Ivy Bridge Mobile Platform Architecture|
|Intel's 3rd generation Core processor architecture has undergone what can be considered as a major buffing-out. At 22nm and as the first processor to feature Intel Tri-Gate 3D transistor technology, the company was able to pour much more silicon resources and real estate into this processor than ever before; and it shows.
Just looking at the high level architecture and considering the partitioning of silicon area to functional blocks, it's easy to see that Ivy Bridge CPU cores consume only about 1/3rd of the overall die map. This speaks volumes with respect to how Intel has continued to further balance their architecture toward heavier multimedia and graphics-intensive workloads. Note also that Last Level Cache or "LLC" consumes a healthy chunk of real estate as well. Like Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture, this is again a shared memory resource between the CPU and GPU engines and depending on CPU model there is 6 - 8MB of total LLC (or L3) cache.
In terms of architectural enhancements, Intel has beefed up resources for graphics, security processing, AVX Extension (for floating point processing and parallelism), and PCI Express 3.0 Graphics support over its external PCIe links. Intel's integrated HD 4000 graphics core now offers full DX11 support with 16 Execution Units on board now, up from Sandy Bridge's max allocation of 12. The graphics core speed hasn't changed at a max of 1300MHz, though the new engine also supports OpenGL 3.1 rendering now and Intel is claiming a 2X performance boost over Sandy Bridge HD 3000 graphics. Again for additional chip architecture detail be sure to check out our Ivy Bridge deep dive.
Intel has also made significant upgrades to their PCH (Platform Controller Hub) architecture with the Ivy Bridge mobile platform. The new H77 chipset now offers up to four ports of USB 3.0 connectivity and 10 USB 2.0 ports. Display output for the chipset now supports 3 independent outputs of either DisplayPort, HDMI, or DVI, along with 1 SDVO (Serial Digital Video Out) port. Incidentally, HDMI connectivity is now version 1.4a compliant and 3D capable. Intel is marketing their InTru 3D technology with Ivy Bridge as well, though this technology has been around since the Sandy Bridge architecture.
Along with all of their new processor technology, Intel has been continuing to make inroads with a long list of ISVs in the content creation and video processing/production space. The company's latest iteration of their Quick Sync transcode acceleration technology in Ivy Bridge is actually significantly faster, as you'll see in the pages ahead. We specifically tested CyberLink MediaEspresso and even compared to DirectCompute with discrete AMD-ATI solutions or CUDA on GeForce GPUs, Quick Sync is markedly faster and more efficient.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, let's first take a look at the Asus N56VM notebook that delivered our first Ivy Bridge mobile experience.
|The Asus N56VM 15-Inch Ivy Bridge Notebook|
|At 6lbs, the Asus N56VM is no Ultrabook but then again, it's not designed to be either. This is a nicely decked out machine complete with a high resolution 15.6" matte finish, LED backlit LCD that spots a native resolution of 1920X1080. The panel offers a very sharp image quality with good contrast and color balance. Viewing angles are also very good with this panel.
The machine also offers a full-sized keyboard area with number pad, so Asus makes no bones about the fact that this is a multimedia machine capable of replacing your desktop system.
Asus N56VM: Intel Core i7-3720QM, 8GB DDR3-1333, GeForce GT 630M, 750GB/7200 RPM HD**
**Note: We reconfigured our test machine with a 240GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD for testing.
Aesthetically, the N56VM is a nice looking machine with a brushed aluminum finish on the top side of its chassis that is supported with an all black plastic housing underneath. The materials and worksmanship are solid here and the keyboard is completely rigid with a nice amount of travel in the key caps. The touchpad area has a nice ever-so slightly textured finish on it and it's absolutely huge. It supports gestures like pinch to zoom, has two button control and aside from the occasional accidental cursor movement while typing, it's a pleasure to use. On the left edge of the machine are two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 1.4a port, Gigabit Ethernet port, VGA port, audio line output and chassis venting.
On the right edge of the machine, are two more USB 3.0 ports, headphone and microphone ports, a Blu-ray optical drive, power jack and a Kensington lock port. Bang and Olufsen's ICEPower audio system adorns the area above the keyboard just underneath the display. We'd offer that the sound system in this machine is better than most but we've heard more open highs and deeper base response from higher end machines.
Trimming the package up nicely is a very dark pewter finish on a brushed aluminum surface that adorns the top lid of the N56VM. It adds a solid, quality feel to the machine but unfortunately shows off the occasional greasy fingerprint rather well. The good news is there is plenty of tilt angle to the hing mechanism in the lid, so the display can be positioned virtually at any angle you'd require for optimal viewing, whether sitting in front of or standing over the machine.
All told the Asus N56VM is a solid mainstream multimedia notebook that is designed to offer access to all of the latest features of Intel's Ivy Bridge mobile notebook architecture. This notebook should have an MSRP of $1149 - $1200 when it ships in the coming month or so. At that price, configured with 8GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M GPU, its high res panel and a Blu-ray player, it's a good value that will be powerful enough to handle just about anything you could expect this class of machine to handle. It's not a gaming powerhouse per se but, as you'll see, it's not your Daddy's ol' boat anchor machine either.
|Test Methodology, HD Video and Quick Sync Transcoding|
|Test Methodology: As you'll note in
the following pages of benchmarks, we've compared the Intel Ivy Bridge mobile-equipped Asus N56VM notebook versus a few different machines, both standard notebooks and in some cases Ultrabook class products. In every test case, we tried to leave each
notebook as delivered to us from the manufacturers. This meant, after any
pending Windows updates were installed, we disabled Windows update and
also disabled any virus scanning software that may have been installed,
so it wouldn't kick in during benchmark runs. That said, it's virtually
impossible to ensure identical system configurations between notebooks;
so we'll caution you that reference scores from the various test
systems are listed in order to give you a general feel for performance
between these similar class of machines and not for direct,
As a quick sanity check on CPU utilization, we first fired up a 1080p QuickTime video clip from the Apple QuickTime Movie Trailer gallery. Here we've captured a scene from the movie Battleship by Universal so you can get a look at how Intel's new Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM handles unoptimized HD video decoding workloads.
1080p H.264 Encoded QuickTime Trailer Playback
Windows Task Manager Performance monitor shows the new quad-core, eight-thread capable chip is oscillating between 10 - 11% CPU utilization.
Cyberlink's MediaEspresso is a video conversion tool that imports various video media files types and converts them to other standard video types for publication, portability and streaming. In this test, we take a 224MB high definition 1080p AVCHD video clip and convert it to a 720p H.264-encoded video file. Here we're going to look directly at Intel's Quick Sync video transcode engine in the new Ivy Bridge processor architecture and compare it to Intel's previous generation Sandy Bridge Quick Sync engine and competitive GPU-based solutions as well.
Times are measured in minutes:seconds with lower times representing faster throughput in the video conversion process.
The highlight numbers you want to take-away from this graph are shown at the very top. Intel's previous generation Sandy Bridge Core i7-2820QM quad core clips in at a blistering 14 seconds flat, only to be beaten by the new Core i7-3720QM Ivy Bridge CPU in half the time at 7 seconds. Beyond that, you can see just how much workload this video conversion task is for other platforms. Even NVIDIA's CUDA-powered time of 0:53 is just a hair faster than Ivy Bridge in software-only mode with hardware Quick Sync acceleration disabled.
|SiSoftware SANDRA and PCMark 7|
|We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer,
Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in
subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2012 suite (CPU
Arithmetic, Multimedia, Cache and Memory Latency and Memory Bandwidth).
SANDRA Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia Tests
SANDRA Cache and Memory Latency and Memory Bandwidth Tests
In these quick synthetic tests Ivy Bridge shows a significant 15 - 20% performance advantage over previous generation Sandy Bridge CPUs, along with about 1.25GB/sec more memory bandwidth. Cache latency is ever so slightly higher in some cases with Ivy Bridge however.
Next up, we ran our test systems through Futuremark’s previous generation total-system performance evaluation tool, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Since we have a database of scores for this test, we felt it would be good to give you additional reference points to compare to.
Keep in mind we're showing you reference scores versus Utlrabooks primarily here, with lower power dual-core CPUs for the most part. However, each of these machines are also configured with fast SSDs, which affects the score in PCMark 7 significantly since it's a rather disk sensitive benchmark. Recently, this new crop of Ultrabooks as chalked up top end scores in this benchmark as a result of their SSD storage subsystems primarily. With the Ivy Bridge-powered Asus N56VM setup with a 240GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, we saw some of the best PCMark 7 scores we've ever recorded from a notebook thus far.
|Rendering and Media Encoding: Cinebench and LAME MT|
Cinebench R11.5 is a
3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D
is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by animation houses and
producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of
system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure
In Cinebench, the Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM processor's OpenGL graphics score is almost 2X that of the Core i7-2820QM, making good initially on Intel's graphics performance claims. In terms of CPU, Ivy Bridge boasts an 18% edge over the fastest Sandy Bridge score.
In Lame we only see a 10 - 13% advantage for the Core i7-3720QM Ivy Bridge chip. LAME is at best a dual-threaded application so this doesn't take advantage of Intel's latest mutlicore architectures all that well.
|Gaming Performance: Left 4 Dead 2 and Far Cry 2|
The long and short of it is, if you're a Left 4 Dead 2 fan (and there are a few of us around these parts that are), Intel's HD Graphics 4000 engine in Ivy Bridge is more than capable, even with a bit of Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering in the mix cleaning up image quality. Here we see over a 2X performance gain over Sandy Bridge and playable performance at higher resolutions and image quality.
More of the same here with FarCry 2, with the Core i7-3720QM besting the Core i7-2820QM by over two times the performance at high res. Also note that Ivy Bridge can almost hang with discrete graphics in this test, which is slightly more memory bandwidth and CPU balanced than some of the more shader-intensive titles you'll see next.
|DX11 Gaming Benchmark: 3DMark 11|
In 3DMark 11 Intel's now DX11 capable chip can finally render the workloads required for each sub-test, something that Intel integrated graphics haven't been able to handle until now. And will you look at that, Intel's Ivy Bridge IGP is actually besting a discrete AMD GPU and is within striking distance of a discrete NVIDIA solution as well.
|DX11 Gaming: Metro 2033|
Metro 2033 is a hard-core DX11 GPU-busting benchmark to be sure and most of the lower-end graphics solutions in our test group have a tough time pulling playable frame rates. That said, here again we see Ivy Bridge posting dramatically better scores versus its Intel HD 3000 graphics-drive counterparts and pulling in right on the heels of NVIDIA's discrete GeForce GT 630M GPU.
|DX11 Gaming: Batman Arkham City|
Batman: Arkham City is sort of the poster child these days for a leading-edge game engine that not only looks great but employs some higher end effects and rendering techniques. In DX11 mode, the Ivy Bridge Intel HD 4000 graphics engine can't keep pace with the discrete GeForce GPU and drops back significantly. However, Intel's Ivy Bridge graphics core actually beats their previous generation graphics core while running in DX11 mode, versus the Sandy Bridge running DX9. Turn down the load to DX9 on Ivy Bridge and once again we see a 2X performance increase between the two Intel architectures. Impressive.
|Power Consumption and Battery Life|
|If you're shopping for an notebook you're likely very interested in what kind of battery life you can expect from a system, unless you're considering a desktop replacement machine.
The results below are from our combined Battery Eater Pro (worst case) and Web Browsing only (almost best case) tests. BEP beats on the CPU, GPU, disk and memory while it renders a 3D image and rotates it in real time on the screen. Our light duty, web browser test refreshes a web page of mixed text, graphics, HTML and Flash, every 3 minutes. Both tests are run with display brightness set to 50% with no sleep timers enabled. All other power plan options were left as delivered from the manufacturer. We should note that all tests below were conducted on the integrated graphics core of the CPU in each notebook.
The Asus N56VM, with its 6-cell battery, lasted about 4 hours on a charge under a light duty web browsing workload. However, under our Battery Eater test condition, the machine actually pulled up in the rear of the pack, at just over an hour of uptime, similar to the quad-core Sandy Bridge based Asus G73 notebook. Please note there are differences in screen size and battery power ratings between the machines as well, so this is more of a total solution power test, versus pure processor power consumption.
What this does speak to is that under light-duty workloads, Ivy Bridge scales back nicely in terms of power consumption, such that the 15.6-inch Asus N56VM is almost competitive with the 14-inch Alienware M14x, which by the way sports an 8-cell 63Whr battery versus the N56VM's 6-cell battery. The M14x also weighs a half pound more than the N56VM, though it's a smaller 14-inch form factor.
In terms of direct power consumption measurements, we observed the Ivy Bridge-powered Asus N56VM hovering around 17.5 Watts of power consumption when idle on the desktop, with peak load draw of 93W with both CPU and GPU under load and 75W with just the CPU fully loaded.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The Intel Core i7-3720QM is easily the fastest notebook processor we've tested to date. In standard compute workloads like Cinebench and LAME MT, the new Ivy Bridge Core i7 offered performance gains of 12 - 20% over Intel's previous generation Sandy Bridge processors, though it's hard to make direct clock-for-clock comparisons, since Intel Turbo Boost speeds vary significantly between the two architectures. What's more impressive however, is how far Intel's Ivy Bridge graphics core has come along since Sandy Bridge. Intel claimed we'd see a 2X performance increase in integrated graphics performance with their HD Graphics 4000 core; and we saw just that in many game tests like Batman: Arkham City, Left 4 Dead 2 and FarCry 2. Furthermore, Intel's Quick Sync video transcoding engine in Ivy Bridge is also nearly twice as fast as Sandy Bridge's already smoking fast Quick Sync engine.
Intel's Ivy Bridge Core i7 Quad Core Mobile Architecture - Well-Rounded Performance
Asus N56VM 15.6-inch Multimedia Notebook - A Powerhouse with All the Trimmings
In our meetings with Intel's Notebook Marketing team over the years, they've often asked us what we would characterize as "good enough" performance for integrated notebook graphics, at least as far as what we felt an average, mainstream consumer's expectations would be. And through those discussions, up until now frankly, we've always felt like Intel had their eye on the prize, so to speak, but our continual evaluation and analysis told us we weren't quite there yet. Ivy Bridge, however, changes all of that for Intel.
It appears, with this architecture launch, that Intel has arrived to market with an integrated graphics solution, coupled with core CPU and shared cache memory that offer robust processing resources for virtually any workload that the average consumer could want in a notebook solution--even for gaming. We'll qualify that and say the hard core performance enthusiasts and gamers are still going to look toward discrete solutions for a true gaming notebook experience. However, that's a niche' market and not the mainstream requirement. I'll put it to you this way, since you obviously come here for our personal opinions on products. Would I personally need anything more in terms of multimedia or graphics horsepower, beyond what the Core i7-3720QM Ivy Bridge CPU offers in a notebook? Absolutely not. I tend to game on my desktop machines and not often enough to be honest. Ivy Bridge is a notebook processor architecture that gives me virtually 100% of the features and performance I'd want in a notebook solution, without compromise. And since I work a lot with video when I'm on location at events etc., Intel's faster Quick Sync transcoding technology is a major advantage for my particular use case. Finally, all of this enhanced performance is being delivered with lower power consumption. It's abundantly clear that Intel's bet on 22nm 3D Tri-Gate manufacturing technology has paid off in spades.
Ahh but there's always a "what if," isn't there? The real question at this point is: What if AMD's upcoming Trinity Fusion APU technology offers a different balance of "good enough" CPU performance coupled with even stronger graphics/gaming and media encoding capabilities? And what if AMD can pull this off at price points and power consumption lower than their arch rival? With the performance we've seen from Intel's Ivy Bridge processor today, we'd say that's going to be a mighty tall hurdle for AMD to get over, though we'll tell you that within the next month or so that "what if" will be answered in specific detail. We've already got Trinity on the bench in house here, so we'd suggest you keep your eyes and ears peeled. This ought to get interesting pretty quickly.
Ivy is here now however, and she's lookin' pretty <HOT>.
Intel Core i7-3720QM Processor and Asus N56VM Notebook