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We already know that Ivy Bridge is a tick in the company's cadence. It represents a shift to 22 nm manufacturing, and incorporates much of what Intel introduced alongside Sandy Bridge. Naturally, it's an evolutionary step forward more than anything.
In the desktop space, Ivy Bridge doesn't have much effect at all on the performance of our tests. Improved IPC throughput shaves off a few seconds here and there from our processor-bound benchmarks. And of course, the graphics engine is significantly faster. But an enthusiast puts very little weight on integrated graphics, and a couple of percentage points certainly aren't enough to compel an upgrade from the previous generation.
Ivy Bridge's impact on the mobile space is certainly more profound, though. That 22 nm adoption helps bring down power consumption, even as Intel's newest processors maintain similar performance. Moreover, a notebook is far more likely to exploit good-enough built-in graphics. By beefing up its GPU, HD Graphics 4000 proves capable enough to satisfy more of Intel's customers than any past effort. It's even capable of slogging through Battlefield 3 (albeit using low resolutions and modest quality settings).
Lower power, better compute performance, and faster graphics. Those are all massive boons to partners designing small, thin, and light mobile platforms based on Ivy Bridge.
Where does the competition land? Well, none of AMD's Llano-based parts come equipped with fixed-function logic able to match Quick Sync. We know that upcoming Trinity-based APUs will include the company's VCE capability, but because that feature isn't even enabled on the Radeon HD 7000-series add-in cards, we don't know how it'll match up.
AMD does have a great graphics solution. Unfortunately, throttling down from the 100 W TDP of its desktop Llano-based parts down to 35 W affects 3D performance in a big way. The A8-3520M boasts 400 shader cores, but they have to operate at much lower clock rates. The result is generally good enough to match Intel's HD Graphics 3000 implementation, but the new Ivy Bridge design simply pulls away effortlessly.
In the days to come, we'll be seeing AMD's answer to Ivy Bridge in its Trinity design. Armed with Piledriver-based processor cores and a more efficient graphics architecture, the company probably won't try to compete against Intel's highest-end mobile models. We do expect a big value push, though, and an almost-certain counter to Intel's Ultrabook initiative.
Until then, Intel's most recent step forward looks like it'll be a major enabler for a number of the company's partners. The high-performance, lower-power Ivy Bridge design facilitates the newest generation of Ultrabooks, embodied in a fresh form-factor that many folks hope will breathe new life into the diminishing notebook marketplace. With tablets increasingly grabbing mind and market share, Intel is placing its bets on Ivy Bridge-powered Ultrabooks to help turn the tide.