Next week Intel will unveil a new wave of Ultrabooks powered by dual-core versions of its 3rd Generation Core processor. In a blog post today, the company said there are more than 110 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook designs in the works, a notable increase over the 21 current models using the older Sandy Bridge processors. Meanwhile several sites posted more details on the upcoming dual-core chips based on tests with an Intel prototype laptop.
Intel and its customers will be showing many of these new Ultrabooks at Computex 2012 in Taiwan next week--one year after Sean Maloney first introduced the concept at the same event. Most of these will be conventional "clamshell" laptops, but with Windows 8 right around the corner, we should see more innovative designs as well. Intel said some 30 models will have touchscreens, including 10 convertible designs that can be used as laptops or tablets.
See related: Free Wi-Fi could boost Ultrabooks in business laptop market | Mac, PC solid state drives aren't compatible | Quick look at the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 (hands-on) | AMD's 'Trinity' challenge to Intel's Ivy Bridge: Will it convince OEMs?
The company also announced some tweaks to its specifications for the Ultrabook (which is an Intel trademark). The main requirements pertaining to traits such thickness, battery life and start-up times, haven't changed. But Intel is now requiring that Ultrabooks come with either USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt "for fast transfer times." (Outside of Apple Macs, Thunderbolt has so far been hard to find, but Intel recently shipped its first desktop motherboard with Thunderbolt built-in.) There are also some new requirements around responsiveness, which are apparently measured using benchmark tests, though Intel isn't providing many details here.
The first Ivy Bridge processors, which launched in April, were all high-end quad-core processors designed for desktops and some larger laptops. The new dual-cores will find their way into many more notebooks including Ultrabooks and mainstream laptops at lower prices. The two types of mobile Ivy Bridge processors correspond to these two categories of notebooks: chips with a "U" in the name are low-voltage parts for Ultrabooks and those with an "M" are for mainstream models.
Low-voltage Mobile Ivy Bridge Processors (rated at 17 watts):
Standard Mobile Ivy Bridge Processors (rated at 35 watts):
Based on the early results on several enthusiast sites (CNET's take is here), using the Intel reference design with the Core i5-3427U, the low-voltage Ivy Bridges are faster than 17-watt Sandy Bridge counterparts, and in some cases come close to the 35-watt Sandy Bridges in terms of CPU performance. That means Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks will be able to provide performance similar to what is only available in thicker and heavier laptops today.
The real improvement, however, should be in graphics performance. All of the Ivy Bridge mobile processors have the HD 4000 graphics, which has more execution units than Sandy Bridge's HD 3000 graphics (and also supports DirectX 11 and OpenCL). Ivy Bridge is still no match for discrete graphics--or the Radeon graphics on AMD's A-Series Llano and Trinity processors, for that matter--but it is sufficient to play most new games at 1366x768, and in some cases 1600x900, as long as the detail settings are kept low. Battery life should remain about the same, which means around five hours or more.
AMD recently announced its first Trinity APUs (Accelerated Processing Units) and it plans to push these for ultrathin laptops that look like Ultrabooks but have lower prices. The first tests of Trinity suggest things haven't really changed much: Intel still has a sizable lead in CPU performance, but AMD maintains the edge in graphics.
Next week I'll be in Taiwan to get a ringside seat for this match, and to spend some hands-on time with the Ultrabooks and ultrathin laptops that will be hitting the market in coming weeks. Stay tuned for more on these.