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Bridge to the Future

Intel’s pumping out a whole new generation of  chips even though their previous offerings are  only a year old. What new surprises could they  possibly have in store for us?

  The year 2011 is of   to a fl  ying  start, thanks to Intel’s long-
awaited Second Generation  Core Microprocessor family. We’ve been
seeing some exciting (but top-secret)  demos since early September, but now
the products have fi  nally had a formal  launch and so we can talk about them!
The Core i-series family isn’t even  that old, but already there’s a new  generation ready to take over. The main  reason for excitement is that Sandy
Bridge represents the fi  rst brand new  architecture in a long while. Everything  is new, from the basic CPU architecture  to the chipsets and motherboards  required. Sadly, this means that anyone
who bought a brand new Intel-based  system last year is out of upgrade  options. Interestingly, while the low-end  and mid-range Core i3s and i5s are being  refreshed, the high-end i7s will continue  at the top of the heap till at least the  latter half of this year—even though their  new younger siblings are quite capable  of nipping at their heels, as we’ll shortly  illustrate. The best way to identify that you’re  getting a new 2011-series CPU is to check  that your new desktop or laptop comes  with one of the new stickers you see  alongside, rather than the older curved  design. The CPUs also have an extra  “2” prefi  xed to the model number, for example last  year’s products were named Core i3-XXX,  whereas this year’s will be Core i3-2XXX.  The chipsets are named H67 and  P67—both use the new Socket 1155

Following Intel’s tick-tock strategy  which has been going well for several years now, Sandy Bridge introduces a  new architecture using the same 32nm  manufacturing technology. The focus  here has been on power ei   ciency and  tight integration of components, to  increase performance while decreasing  power draw. At the heart of the new  design, a ring-shaped bus carries databetween the CPU cores, the graphics  logic, the L3 cache, and the memory  controller. All these are now implemented  in the same silicone die, which allows  or tremendous improvements in speed  when data needs to move between  them. A new instruction set called AVX  (Advanced Vector eXtensions) also  speeds up the processing of fl  oating  point instructions, which are much more  demanding considering the highly parallel  nature of today’s media encoding and  creation software. Turbo Boost, which lets individual  cores speed up while others lie idle,
now extends to the graphics logic as  well. The areas of the chip that handle traditional CPU and GPU tasks can now  trade of   with each other, allowing each  to ramp up when needed, as long as  overall power consumption stays within  limits. Turbo Boost also ramps up and  down much more rapidly, in response to  software typically operating with short  but intense bursts of activity. With traditional desktop PCs fading  away, Intel is also focusing on power  ei   ciency for laptops and compact or  all-in-one desktops that don’t require  massive cooling contraptions. The new  CPUs consume between 17 and 55 Watts  (mobile) and between 45 and 95 Watts  (desktop); a marked improvement over  older generations.

2nd Gen Intel Core Processor Overview



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