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Sandy Bridge chips take notebooks into future, says Intel

New architecture shrinks graphics processor to 32nm and puts it onto the processor itself

September 13, 2010 07:54 PM ET

Computerworld - When Intel engineers began thinking about designing a new chip architecture, they first decided to reconsider the way they think about laptops.

Intel executives have been rolling out demos and specs of Sandy Bridge, the company's new microprocessor architecture, at the company's annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) conference in San Francisco on Monday.

The chip maker is expected to begin producing the new family of chips later this year, and computer makers are expected to begin announcing their new Sandy Bridge-powered machines in the first quarter of 2011.

The first of the new chips, which officially will be named Second Generation Intel Core chips, will be for laptops and desktops. Server and workstation chips are set to be released in the second half of next year, said Intel's vice president and director of PC Client Operations and Enabling, Stephen Smith.

"Before we started in on Sandy Bridge, we looked at where clients are going," Smith told Computerworld. "It's about this transition from desktop to mobile as the predominant form factor. Right now there are more notebooks being sold than desktops. When we optimized Sandy Bridge, we optimized it for the notebook form factor. We wanted the highest performance and the best power efficiency."

And to do that, Smith said engineers decided that the graphics chip needed to be brought onto a 32 nanometer design and built into the processor.

With Intel's Core i Series, which is the current family of Intel chips, the graphics and processor are in a multi-chip package. In Sandy Bridge, however, the processor core and the graphics will all be on the same die.

That means that Intel Turbo Boost technology, which was introduced in the Core i Series, will now work on graphics, as well as the processor.

Turbo Boost is a feature designed to automatically turn cores on and off as needed. Now, the feature only affects the processing cores. With Sandy Bridge, that will change and graphics will get a significant boost.

"If you're in the middle of playing a game and the machine is drawing, it will send more power to the graphics portion," Smith said. "But if you're rendering a 3D drawing before it throws the image on the screen, more power will go to the processor..."

"Clearly, the most dramatic difference is pulling the graphics and media onto 32nm. That gives us much higher performance in the same processor package and thermal envelope," Smith said.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said building the graphics into the processor should give Sandy Bridge chips a solid performance improvement over the current Core i Series.



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