Intel Core i7-3720QM Ivy Bridge Mobile Review

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.

As if that weren't enough, the company is obviously champing at the bit for the launch of their 3rd generation Core series processors known by the code name Ivy Bridge.  From full-on leaks of NDA classified information and performance results, to the official, blessed unveiling of Intel's companion 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.
Intel Core i7 Mobile Processors
Specifications & Feature

Feature: Benefit:
Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 Dynamically increases the processor's frequency as needed by taking advantage of thermal and power headroom to give you a burst of speed when you need it.
Intel Hyper-Threading Technology Delivers two processing threads per physical core. Highly threaded applications can get more work done in parallel, completing tasks sooner.
Integrated Memory Controller An integrated memory controller offers stunning memory read/write performance through efficient prefetching algorithms, lower latency, and higher memory bandwidth.
HD Graphics 4000 - Built-In Visuals Intel Quick Sync Video—Delivers fast conversion of video for portable media players, online sharing, and video editing and authoring.
Intel Clear Video HD—Visual quality and color fidelity enhancements for HD playback for  sharper, smoother, and richer picture.
Intel InTru 3D—Stereoscopic 3-D Blu-ray playback in full 1080p resolution over HDMI 1.4 and premium audio.
Intel HD Graphics—Enhanced 3-D performance for immersive mainstream and casual gaming.
Intel Advanced Vector Extensions—A set of new instructions to improve software performance for floating point-intensive applications such as audio processing, audio codecs, and image and video editing applications.
Intel Smart Cache The shared cache is dynamically allocated to each processor core, based on workload. This significantly reduces latency, improving performance.
AES New Instructions (AES-NI) New AES instructions add hardware acceleration to AES algorithms and speeds up the execution of AES applications.
Intel Virtualization Technology Allows one hardware platform to function as multiple "virtual" platforms. Offers improved manageability by limiting downtime and maintaining productivity by isolating computing activities into separate partitions.

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.

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