Intel has revealed full technical details of its next generation Ivy Bridge processor core, expected to appear in notebooks and PCs early next year.
The new design is based on the company’s Sandy Bridge architecture, but takes in several significant changes, as explained by Intel engineers at IDF in San Francisco.
The changes start with the process size. Ivy Bridge is a product of Intel’s “tick-tock” strategy, a two-year cycle of implementing new architectures and shrinking the fabrication process. Ivy Bridge is a “tick”, shrinking the Sandy Bridge process from 32nm to 22nm. The switch, made possible by Intel’s Tri-Gate transistor technology, gives Ivy Bridge processors far better power efficiency than their predecessors.
“We’re getting about half the power at the same performance – a little bit better,” explained Intel’s mobility director Tom Piazza at IDF. “So we can get the same performance with half the power. Or, double the performance at the same power.”
New graphics core
Ivy Bridge also includes a new graphics core, offering numerous improvements over Sandy Bridge. The new GPU supports DirectX 11, and features a built in AVC encoder for hardware video encoding and transcoding. It also supports up to three monitors (up from Sandy Bridge’s two) and includes many technical enhancements – including, for the first time, access to the on-chip L3 cache – to improve performance.
Despite these enhancements, Ivy Bridge looks unlikely to match AMD’s Fusion CPUs for 3D gaming. But when a member of the audience asked how large the performance gap was, Piazza looked optimistically to the future: “I expect that that gap, from everything I have seen, is closing fast. And I see no reason why it won’t go the other way, and maybe you’ll be asking the other guys that question in a year or two, or at least I hope.”
Traditionally, processors have been offered in a range of models to suit different TDP (thermal design power) ratings. Ivy Bridge can support a selectable range of TDPs, either set by the device manufacturer or dynamically adjusted by software.
For example, a mobile Ivy Bridge processor could automatically configure itself to use Turbo Boost more aggressively when the system is docked – a smarter approach than Intel’s existing SpeedStep technology.
Power profiles can also affect how Ivy Bridge’s system agent allocates work. If the system is running in low power mode, the agent can attempt to run all threads on as few cores as possible, leaving the others powered down. For a high-performance profile, multiple cores would be targeted to give maximum responsiveness.
For enthusiasts, Intel has raised the maximum Turbo Boost multiplier from 57 to 63, theoretically allowing clock speeds of 6.3GHz. Permissible memory speeds have been raised too, to 2.8GHz, adjustable in steps of 200MHz.
Overclocking promises to be more convenient than with previous processors, thanks to dynamic ratio adjustment, which allows Ivy Bridge’s Turbo speeds to be changed from within Windows, with no need to reboot or change BIOS settings.
New security features
The last notable changes are a few security features. Ivy Bridge processors include a standards-compliant random number generator, which can be used for seeding encryption operations.
And the memorably named SMEP system (Supervisory Mode Execute Protection) prevents privilege escalation exploits by preventing code from running at a higher level of trust than was originally assigned to it.
As you'd expect from a "tick", Ivy Bridge isn’t as revolutionary as Sandy Bridge was. And as yet there’s no word on pricing, models or even how the new chips will be branded. It was notable that Intel CEO Paul Otellini barely mentioned Ivy Bridge in his IDF keynote speech – even though it’s set to be the company’s next major technology launch.
All the same, with the die shrink promising even greater performance than Intel's barnstoming Sandy Bridge processors, and a new GPU to boot, Ivy Bridge raises exciting prospects for 2012. AMD’s forthcoming Bulldozer architecture will have to be pretty special to compete.
This article originally appeared at pcpro.co.uk