Ivy Bridge Processors Set To Be Another Big Upgrade

Ivy Bridge is Intel’s next generation of processors, and by normal standards it should do nothing more than make the current 32nm Sandy Bridge processor a 22nm processor. But Intel is calling Ivy Bridge ‘Tick Plus’ because they’re making some changes to the architecture alongside the die shrink that will make it another significant upgrade.

If you haven’t heard the story before, Intel runs its upgrades on a ‘tick tock’ cycle. The ‘tick’ is when they take the current architecture and make it smaller, and the ‘tock’ is when they take that smaller size and rework the architecture to make it smarter. Sandy Bridge was a ‘tock’ cycle, and it delivered some incredibly impressive steps forward, making it a chip well worth the upgrade.

So Ivy Bridge is a ‘tick’, scaling down from 32nm to 22nm. But yesterday Intel’s Mooly Eden said that new transistor technology being introduced with Ivy Bridge has let them make some changes to architecture at the same time. And with that will come a fresh set of power and performance upgrades.

Some of the claims come straight from the book of ‘better’. More battery life, better performance, USB3, Thunderbolt, all that jazz.

But one feature that stands out is a configurable Thermal Design Point. Any computer can only perform at its best within a certain temperature range. Thin laptops, in particular, need to run at lower power to manage their heat dissipation without the benefit of big fans or heat sinks. With Ivy Bridge a laptop maker can design a laptop to limit the standard performance of a processor, but also let it run in short bursts all the way to the top of the chip’s potential.

This is a change from designs where chips that were designed for lower power also had lower upper limits, so the chip could never perform as well as a ‘full speed’ version of the chip. Ivy Bridge lets performance only be limited by the thermal threshold as defined by the system builder.

So far, so nerdfest. Where this gets very interesting is in adding good external cooling to get more performance from an otherwise ultra slim notebook. Whether this is via a smarter third-party heatpad solution or through a custom docking station with special extra cooling, with Ivy Bridge we may see notebooks that run at lower speeds while you’re on the road but can also perform at far more powerful speeds when you dock them back at your desk.

The perfect combination of travel performance and desktop workstation? We’ll see next year. But it’s definitely an interesting prospect.

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