Intel tracks 500 design wins for Sandy Bridge chips

Intel will display at least 28 Sandy Bridge chips at CES, and many desktop and laptop products containing the chips

The world's largest chip maker will show off its most advanced line of microprocessors ever at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Wednesday, complete with a range of laptop and desktop PCs with the chips inside.

The new family of processors, which will lose their Sandy Bridge codename, includes dozens of new chips, according to Uday Marty, director of basic mobility platforms at Intel, during a briefing in Taipei ahead of CES.

The new processor family is the second generation to take on the 'Core' processor name. Four of them will be Core i3 chips, while 12 will be Core i5 chips and another dozen will be Core i7 chips.

A number of Intel partners will show off their latest laptops and desktops with the new processors inside this week at CES.

"We're already tracking 500 design wins," including notebooks and desktops, Marty said.

The company boasts of far better power efficiency and graphics performance in the new line of chips, as well as added support for wireless technologies. The processors have been so popular among device makers that many are predicting the chips will prod corporations to step up their PC purchases.

In November, Michael Dell said Sandy Bridge could strengthen the corporate refresh cycle, which gained steam after the release of Microsoft's Windows 7 in 2009. A lot of Dell's customers are waiting for Sandy Bridge chips as an "entry point" to start the refresh cycle, he said.

"It will excite the consumer base as well with the integrated graphics performance and some of the new capabilities there," Dell said.

The new Intel chips put a graphics processor, microprocessor and memory controller on a single chip (a monolithic chip). Intel's Marty predicts that people who play casual or mainstream computer games won't even see the need for a separate graphics card, since the graphics cores on the new chips are so good.

Gaming enthusiasts should note that any third party graphics card used with a Core processor needs to have switching capability to make use of the more powerful graphics processors on the graphics card.

Hewlett-Packard, the biggest PC vendor, said the new Intel processors are significantly faster in applications, delivering a 40 percent performance improvement compared to the older Intel Core 2 Duo chips released in 2009, according to Greg Morris, product manager of HP business desktops.

In overall graphics performance, HP gauged a 70 percent improvement in integrated graphics.

The graphics core in the new chips also helps save power, another focus of Intel's processor development efforts. The graphics core shares the workload with the processing core, saving energy by using only what is needed at the moment.

HP figures the new chips offer a 50 percent boost in energy efficiency, according to Morris. HP is launching new HP Compaq 8200 Elite and 6200 Pro corporate desktops with Intel's next-generation core chips.

Intel's focus on energy efficiency in its chips is no accident. The company is keeping up with trends among consumers who want mobile devices to run longer between recharges and corporations that have sought to reduce electric bills with energy saving PCs and servers.

"The key word for us is energy efficiency," Marty said.

The ultra-low voltage (ULV) versions of the new Intel chips are 22 percent smaller than the previous generation and offer a 30 percent performance improvement, as well as lower energy consumption, Marty said.

The company also put out a complete low-power roadmap for desktop chips in 65-watt, 45W and 35W versions, the first time it's ever offered 45W and 35W chips for desktops, he said.

Intel even designed some chips specifically for enthusiasts. The Core i7 2600K and Core i5 2500K will be fully unlocked so people can overclock them up to 5.7GHz, said Marty. The Sandy Bridge chips are the first Intel has unlocked in this manner.

Multimedia users will see a range of improvements from the new Intel chip family, including speedier video file conversions with a built-in transcoding engine called Quick Sync.

Intel built a number of graphics technologies right into the processors, including Visual Build and Intel HD Graphics 2000 and 3000, and codecs encoded into the cores to speed them up, such as MPEG2, and VC1.

However, the chips still have no support for OpenCL (Open Computing Language), a framework for running applications across CPUs and GPUs to improve calculation performance.

Finally, Intel worked to improve wireless capabilities in the chips by including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, as well as Wireless Display (WiDi), which allows devices to share content wirelessly with another device. For example, a WiDi-capable laptop can share full-display high-definition 1080i/p content wirelessly with an LCD TV as long as the LCD TV has a proper adapter. All of the new Core family chips support WiDi.

The new Sandy Bridge chips will be mass produced using Intel's 32-nanometer production technology. The next generation of Intel chips, called Ivy Bridge, will be manufactured with Intel's 22nm technology.

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