Intel Aims to Bridge GPU Gap

Intel’s highly anticipated Ivy Bridge chips, which offer the promise of significant improvements in speed and power usage along with support for USB 3.0, were officially launched on Monday. The first wave of these new chips, which offer a smaller package compared to Intel’s current Sandy Bridge chips, will include 13 quad core processors.

These new chips are the first to use Intel’s new 22-nanometer manufacturing process and feature its new tri-gate technology. They will deliver about 20 percent more processing performance while using 20 percent less average power.

“This is Intel’s highest-performing processor to date, and it offers better thermal and energy performance,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “This is really Intel’s new flagship product.”

Jump Forward

Although there had been concerns that a reduction in the size of transistors could result in reliability issues, Intel was able to reduce the size yet still increase performance. This was accomplished by creating a three-dimensional transistor for the first time. This innovation, which only marginally increases the cost to make the chip, resulted in less power being required to carry out the same action.

For the user, it is all about the performance.

“From a technical standpoint, this is really about two significant jumps in chip architecture,” Charles King of Pund-IT told TechNewsWorld. “One is the ongoing improvement on Moore’s Law in regards to the CPU performance. With Ivy Bridge, Intel is pushing a 15-to-20 percent improvement in the CPU experience, and both business and consumer users will see significant system performance.”

Among the other improvements will be one computer users will certainly be able to see on their monitors.

“This is also giving greater performance in regards to graphics,” said King. “Ivy Bridge will provide a doubling of graphics performance, and this is significant for low-to-mid-range game performance.”

Game Changer

Ivy Bridge could certainly pose a challenge to the standalone GPU card and graphical add-on vendors, as it could challenge the need for a dedicated graphics card, often required in gaming PCs.

“With Ivy Bridge, there will be far less value from standalone GPU cards,” added King. “There will still be dedicated gamers that will go with ATI or Nvidia, but for the average user, Intel has really captured the midrange market, and this will push Nvidia into the high-end niche.”

This could also push AMD as it looks to develop its APU — the accelerated processing unit that combines CPU and GPU.

“It is hard to say what this means for AMD as they have their own chips coming in a few weeks,” said King, who noted that Ivy Bridge could commoditize computing. “It will break every corner of the market. This could lead to a future where the broad range of computer functionality is commoditized.”

With the introduction of high-definition video, as well as video chat, there has been a need for improved graphic capability even on basic systems.

“Graphics have stopped being a value-added proposition, even as Intel has failed to argue the power of its own graphics,” said King. “Now they can offer a powerful option that makes it tougher and tougher for the standalone GPU vendors.”

Greater Connectivity

Beyond graphics, Ivy Bridge will be a game-changer in other ways. The chips provide built-in support for USB 3.0, which has to date required an AMD-based platform, or third-party USB controller chip. With Ivy Bridge, Intel computers will now be able to take advantage of the faster I/O port speeds.

“USB 3.0 can provide a lot more throughput,” said Enderle. “It will offer users greater abilities with their computers, including the ability for power-off charging of devices through the USB port. This will also allow users to take greater advantage of external storage, and allow for faster data going in and out of the port.”

This could mean quicker data transfers from external hard drives, digital cameras and other external peripherals. And although it means faster transfers, there has been a delay in the wait for Ivy Bridge.

These new chips have arrived five months later into the year than last year’s release of Sandy Bridge. There has been speculation that this has left some vendors, such as HP, Lenovo and Samsung, delaying a refresh of their 2012 computer models.

This should not be an issue, though, according to Enderle.

“Ivy Bridge offers plug-in compatibility with Sandy Bridge, so it should not delay or affect current computer production much if all,” he said.

In fact, Intel could be right on target.

“This is really part of the Windows 8 release, which is coming later this year,” said Enderle. “They will have plenty of time to meet production needs for Ivy Bridge. There will be plenty of time for Intel to ride that wave.”

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