Intel and AMD arm wrestle again: this time on power sipping ultrathins

P1040166 Intel and AMD arm wrestle again: this time on power sipping ultrathins

As the low voltage mobile Intel Ivy Bridge launch is now confirmed for May, just as well as similar TDP low voltage AMD Trinity aimed at the same market at the same time, a very interesting duel is in the offing, and in a fresh new platform market to boot…

Yes, Intel needs to take care of their customers' unsold inventories, and no, Intel doesn't have much competition right now either. So, there was no apparent need for them to rush the Ivy Bridge launch across the desktop and mobile platforms, especially since the same-socket Sandy Bridge stocks still need a bit of time to clear.



As of now, expect the high end desktop – and selected top-end mobile – quad core Ivy Bridge CPUs, including the much-expected desktop Core i7 3770K and its notebook equivalent as well, to arrive six weeks from this story appearance. However, the ultra low voltage 17 Watt dual core parts, optimised for the UltraBook market, are only to be launched sometime in May. 



The initial highest end UltraBook Ivy Bridge part, the Core i7 3667U dual core 4MB L2 part in BGA1023 packaging we grew familiar in these machines, will bring quite a good refresh to the UltraBook performance: 2 GHz core frequency with up to 3 GHz Turbo with both cores, or 3.2 GHz Turbo with a single core, as well as DDR3-1600 memory support with extra memory OC enabled – a very welcome benefit for extra bandwidth to feed the sped up DX11 graphics engine too. 



Talking about the graphics, the integrated GPU unit is expected to allow both Turbo and overclocking way beyond the basic 350 MHz clock, towards the gigahertz. Couple it with the increased memory bandwidth and, something not expected before, overclocking abilities in the UltraBook form factor, and it only can mean two things.



One, the power consumption of the new parts is so well improved that Intel can allow, even with the UltraBook form factor limitations, a very substantial clock speed increase from the base, and still declare the basic 17W TDP for which the existing components and system design are optimised already. This will of course mean that the UltraBook usage scope increases, to be able to handle more complex content authoring – and yes, even some 3-D gaming – usually reserved for higher-performance systems, and also accomodate much better displays with beyond 720p resolution, so not to be ashamed at 2048×1536 iPad 3 or even ther 1920×1200 of the next Qualcomm-based Asus Transformer Prime FHD. After all, a well noticeable CPU speed increase, plus double the GPU speed, will open up a lot of new possibilities.



Second, Intel is obviously taking into account the AMD Trinity launch, which – guess what – is expected at almost the same time as the UltraBook Ivy Bridge parts see the light of the day. Now, Trinity might not compete with the higher-end Ivy Bridge units in the CPU performance department, although their GPU is expected to win anyway, but it is their own 17W flavour promise that makes things interesting.



Basically, a 17W Trinity, despite its 32 nm process disadvantage over the 22 nm Intel unit, is expected to keep two dual-core Piledriver processor modules (i.e. two pairs of integer cores, each with a shared FPU – I still dislike the idea, but it may just work well in this case) and the same very powerful GPU from the higher TDP versions, just of course clocked lower. The DDR3-1600 support is a given here too, since the top end Trinity will support DDR3-2133 anyway.



So, what happens then? You'll have two core-pairs of Trinity vs two hyperthreaded – and surely faster clocked after Turbo – cores of Ivy Bridge, as well as somewhat stronger Trinity GPU vs the Ivy Bridge graphics. The outcome could be, pending the final system speed checks, a slightly faster CPU performance on the Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks, but with not so much delta as the high end Ivy Bridge has vs high end Trinity, as well as somewhat faster GPU on the Trinity side, since it is far more capable as a design, but the TDP demands, coupled with the 32 nm process power consumption, force it to be clocked down quite a lot compared to its higher-powered mobile and desktop brethren.



Either way, the ultrathin notebook arena could be a new playing field where Intel and AMD can have some sparring from a more even point of view, compared to the usual desktop and mobile markets where their position is tougher. Even Apple – put aside their attempts to patent the Macbook Air design as a sign of pressure to the UltraBook vendors – could take a note of this expanded CPU choice…

Editor's note: We also have intel that a certain Green Globlin has some surprises in this segment…

In the spare time over the past two decades, editor and writer of high-end computer hardware and design features and analysis for European and US media and analyst houses. Reviews of high end hardware are my specialty for 28 years already.