First Ivy Bridge Chips Emerge

Quad-core chips for high-end desktops are the first to ship, with dual-core mobile processors set to follow later this year.

The first batch of Intel processors based on the company's Ivy Bridge microarchitecture -- 13 quad-core chips designed to run high-end desktop and laptop PCs -- were finally unveiled late last month.

The new quad-core chips are the first products in the long-awaited third generation of the Intel Core processor family to ship.

The second half of this chip family, dual-core Ivy Bridge chips designed for ultrabooks and mainstream laptop and desktop computers, will be ready to ship in the next few months, pledged Kirk Skaugen, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group.

The initial quad-core Ivy Bridge chips are the first to use Intel's 22-nanometer manufacturing process, marking a technology leap from the 32nm process used to make older Intel chips and still used by rival chip makers such as AMD.

"It is big for Intel [to be] first in the marketplace with 22nm," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "It means a smaller die for better costs and fundamentally enables better power characteristics for better performance at less power."

The new quad-core chips include eight Core i7 processors and five Core i5 processors, Intel said.

The company noted that the addition of 3D transistors in the chips, which was possible because of the move to 22nm manufacturing, improved software and graphics performance while preserving laptop battery life.

Most laptops and desktops today run Intel's second generation of Core chips, dubbed Sandy Bridge, which was introduced early last year. Skaugen said the new chips provide up to twice the high-definition multimedia and 3D graphics performance and a 20% CPU boost.

Acer, which started shipping Ivy Bridge-based PCs the same day Intel unveiled the chips, has said its tests also found that the new quad-core chips offer 20% better performance than the Sandy Bridge processors.

The new Predator and Gateway high-end desktop systems from the Taiwanese vendor run Core i5 or i7 processors; they're priced between $699 and $1,199.

Intel hopes Ivy Bridge-based ultrabooks will blur the lines between laptops and tablets by offering touchscreens, long battery life, always-on connectivity, and gesture and voice recognition capabilities.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, called the Ivy Bridge chips "a pretty big deal."

"The lower power and higher performance could be a game-changer," he said. "It will be difficult for AMD to catch up in the short term." The faster boot times and longer battery life for laptops and ultrabooks should capture the attention of corporate IT managers, Gold added.

The new chips are shipping at a time when Intel officials are preparing for a prolonged period of increased demand for desktop PCs. During a mid-April conference call on the company's financial performance, Intel CEO Paul Otellini acknowledged that the Ivy Bridge launch was delayed by a few weeks to ensure that the company had enough inventory to keep up with the already increasing demand for PCs, especially in emerging markets.

Demand will probably continue to increase as problems caused by an earthquake in Japan abate and hard drive manufacturing returns to normal. The expected release of Microsoft Windows 8 later this year should also provide a boost.

Shah is a reporter for the IDG News Service.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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