Mobile Core i7-920XM: Power Is The Price For Better Performance

The Calpella Platform Update

The last-generation Centrino 2 platform was referred to as Montevina. The generation before that was called Santa Rosa. This generation’s platform is called Calpella—a name encompassing the processor, wireless capabilities, and chipset used to build notebooks based on existing Clarksfield CPUs and upcoming Arrandales.

We already know about the processors in play, so let’s talk a bit more about the several chipsets planned for Intel’s 5-Series Express (Ibex Peak) family.

The base model, PM55, is derived from the desktop P55 you already know from our Core i5/Core i5 Lynnfield introduction. Designed to be paired with discrete graphics, it really is the foundation on which upcoming Calpella platforms will build. As a recap, it features eight of its own PCI Express 2.0 lanes, six SATA 3 Gb/s ports, Intel HD Audio, access to as many as 14 USB 2.0 ports, and Intel’s 2MB Ignition firmware (more on firmware in just a bit).

From there, we’ll see the HM55, HM57, QS57, and QM57 chipsets emerge in 2010, all with significantly more functionality than PM55.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Mobile Intel 5-Series Express Chipset Family (Ibex Peak)
Package Size25x27mm22x20mm25x27mm25x27mm25x27mm
ManageabilityvProAMT 6.0Remote PC Assist for BusinessAnti-TheftRPAT for ConsumerIdentity ProtectionAnti-TheftAnti-Theft-
Audio Standard (HDMI)HD AudioHD AudioHD AudioHD Audio-
HDCP ComplianceYesYesYesYes-
SVDO OutputYesYesYesYes-
PAVP 1.5YesYesYesYes-
Dual-Display OutputConcurrent / Simultaneous-
Rapid Storage Technology AHCI DriverYesYesYesYesYes
Rapid Storage Technology + RAIDYesYesYes--
FIS-Based Port MultiplierYesYesYes--
Legacy IDENoNoNoNoNo
Chipset-Based PCI Express88868
Integrated LAN MACYesYesYesYesYes

Noticeably missing from the list is PM57—mobile cousin of the P57 chipset once scheduled for the desktop. Due to a lack of customer demand and the desire for a simpler product stack (five mobile chipsets is already a lot), PM57 has been canceled. The HM57 will offer a similar feature set with addition of switchable or discrete graphics. And just to confirm what we’ve been suggesting for the past few months, Braidwood—the motherboard-down NAND flash technology expected to serve up SSD-like performance—has been removed from all 5-series platforms due to “quality issues that kept the technology from achieving beta status,” according to Intel.

The HM55 and HM57 will emerge alongside the 32nm Arrandale processors in early 2010, adding a number of notable capabilities.

The HM55 includes Intel Anti-Theft technology, HD Audio with HDMI output, HDCP compliance, a Protected Audio Video Path (say hello to bitstreaming Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HS Master Audio), and dual-display outputs. It actually steps back from PM55 by only offering 12 USB 2.0 ports, four SATA connectors, and six PCI Express 2.0 links. However, the HM55 does feature a more complex 4MB Firmware 6.0.

HM57 sports many of the same capabilities as HM55, but steps SATA, USB, and PCIe connectivity back to 6, 14, and 8, respectively. Also included is support for Frame Information Structure (FIS)-based port multipliers—the more advanced of the two port multiplier technologies. In contrast, Intel’s ICH10 is limited to command-based switching. Intel Rapid Storage Technology will be enabled on HM57 as well.

QS57 and QM57 are both very similar to HM57. The two principal differences are a minimum 8MB Firmware 6.0, needed to enable Intel’s business/consumer manageability packages, plus the Anti-Theft and PAVP 1.5 capabilities from the 4MB firmware. Also, the QS57 is a distinctly different chipset component, measuring 22x20mm (rather than 25x27mm) and maxing out at 3.2W (instead of 3.5W). Both of these chipsets will be business fare—less likely to show up in consumer-oriented notebooks.

Differentiating Through Firmware

You’ll notice that firmware plays a big part in differentiating Intel’s five 5-series mobile chipsets—reasonable when you consider that processor-based integration has made it much more difficult to set one chipset apart from another.

The entry-level Ignition Firmware (2MB) deployed in conjunction with the PM55-based notebooks today is used to simply boot the platform. There are no value-added manageability services enabled; it’s a basic BIOS.

A step up, the Intel Management Engine Firmware 6.0 (4MB) will only be found on HM55- and HM57-based notebooks beginning in January of next year, and it’ll work in conjunction with Arrandale’s on-package graphics processor to enable protected audio and video paths for Blu-ray playback. Obviously, that’s not necessary with today’s PM55 chipset since it’s designed to work with discrete GPUs. The larger firmware also introduces Anti-Theft technology, a capability enabled through a solution like Absolute Software’s Computrace, which lets an IT admin “poison” a notebook once it has been flagged stolen and then goes online. The feature is less anti-theft (notebooks remain just as easy to steal) and more an anti-sensitive data loss mechanism. This was available through last-generation’s GM45, but is not a component of the modern PM55 platform.

The highest-end firmware solution is the Intel Management Engine Firmware 6.0 (8MB), which can be packaged for either businesses or consumers. On the business side, the 8MB firmware includes everything from the 2MB and 4MB versions, plus the technologies needed to enable vPro: Active Management 6.0 (AMT 6.0) and Remote PC Assist technology (RPAT). The consumer side gets Identity Protection technology and a more mainstream version of RPAT. Intel hasn’t said much about mixing HM57 and the 8MB firmware for a super-manageable consumer solution though, so we have to imagine HM55 will be the most popular platform for building notebooks on Intel’s 32nm mobile processors.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • anamaniac
    Great article as always Chris.

    And for switchable graphics, how about the integrated for 2D mode and discrete for 3D mode?
    I'd think that'd be the best way.

    I appreciate you doing the thorough power testing. Nice to see what I can expect from these.
  • cangelini
    Thanks much anamaniac--the challenge is that switching between integrated and discrete isn't completely seamless. In other words, you'd have to click/push a button to make it happen, according to the guys I've talked to, even with Arrandale.
  • El_Capitan
    Nice review. I've been looking into notebooks for a while now, and am wondering why anyone would get the Mobile Core i7 720XM over a D900F with a W3520 or i7 920? Or the i7 920XM over a D900F with an X5550 or i7 975? The only reason I can think of is the weight of the notebook (and maybe a little more cost).

    1. Power over battery-life. The only option for me to have something that powerful is to work when I'm away from home or the office. I do this on occasion, and rarely am I not plugged into a power source. I sleep on the plane, and if I want to watch a movie, I've got my iPod Touch (I read when I'm awake, anyway). Those looking to get a notebook like these aren't worried about battery-life.

    2. Out-of-warranty usage. I go through notebooks about 1-2 years. Not because they break (all of mine still work... mostly), but because they're out of date for what I need them to do. I could upgrade the CPU's on some, but for a lot of money for just a little gain. I've sold most of my older laptops since "converting" them to desktops also costs more than just building a desktop with desktop CPU's.

    The best thing about the D900F? Once you're done with it, you've got a desktop CPU to build a desktop with. Mobile CPU's? They go out of date pretty fast.

    They should just stop making power-hungry mobile CPU's and just find ways to make desktop CPU's portable... but then they wouldn't be able make all that dough on the mobile market.
  • anamaniac
    Brandenburgh_ManReading articles on Tomshardware, Anandtech, ExtremeTech, etc. is getting to be such a fucking pain in the ass. It's bad enough that the articles are divided into 20 pages just so they can show 100 advertisements per article, but scrolling through a page of text is like walking through a fucking minefied. If your mouse cursor accidentally rolls over a word containing a hot link, yet another bullshit advertisement pops up, blocking your view of a full paragraph's worth of text. And quite often you can't move these ads or close them without reloading the whole fucking page. Jesus Christ!Use AddBlockerPlus and stop bitching.
    cangeliniThanks much anamaniac--the challenge is that switching between integrated and discrete isn't completely seamless. In other words, you'd have to click/push a button to make it happen, according to the guys I've talked to, even with Arrandale.Damn... the simplest things just can't be easy, can they?
    Though hopefully the dual cores GPU holds up well enough that we don't need a discrete (and for those that would require a discrete in the first place may be going for a quad core... assuming any affordable i7 laptops come out).
  • @ Brandenburgh_Man

    That's adware that's infected your system. When you scroll over words like PC of HP or Dell, it's adware highlighting it, not the site. Time to disinfect.
  • scook9
    Switchable Graphics is not a new idea necessarily....Alienware has been doing this in laptops for a while. The Area-51 m15x was the first with it I believe - It has an Nvidia discrete GPU and the Intel IGP

    The M17x "All Powerful" also has this feature, using either the GTX 280m SLI or 9400m as needed for Power or Battery life. I have an M17x with 280m SLI and a QX9300 and when I switch to the 9400m I can enjoy about 3.5 hours of battery life with regular usage if the screen is dimmed. I was able to watch a complete blu-ray movie with the 9400m accelerating playback and then play solitaire for 45 minutes with a full charge all off battery on a plane.

    I am looking forward to someone figuring out how to get SLI AND the mobile i7 into a laptop/desktop replacement but so far I don't think it is going to happen due to that just being too much power used at one time.

    Outstanding review and exactly what I was looking for to get a reference point on these new CPUs
  • Doesn't look to be a very good product, IMHO. Way too much TDP, for what doesn't amount to enough performance gain. Laptops that run too hot and suck too much power will always be subject to reliability problems.

    It may work fine if you never do anything CPU intensive, but I'm sure it probably hits in the neighborhood of 100c if you do something CPU intensive like compiling a Linux kernel or transcoding video. If you never do anything CPU intensive, then you don't need this anyways.
  • _mrvtcng_
    I better read the articles from, it is more trustworthy. I dont like the articles from Tomshardware, it's only for noob who likes to be fooled.
  • godwhomismike
    Why not review the Mobile Core i7-720QM instead of the i7-920XM, since 90%+ of your readers will likely only be able to get a 720QM or an 820QM? I'll admit the 920XM is an impressive processor, but in this economy, there are very very few of us who have the money to buy a computer which has a $1000+ CPU in it.
    I look forward to an article that will compare the 720QM vs the 820QM, and see if the extra cache and speed make much of a difference.
  • masterasia
    WOW! GTX 260m with i7 920XM sounds really good. Add an Intel X25-E SSD and it would be totally awesome. It's too bad that it'll probably cost like $3000 or more.

    What does AMD have up their sleeves to counter this? Nothing probably. I've always hated AMD mobile processors because they use so much power and get so little performance. i7 mobile's 45 and 55 watts isn't too bad because the performance is out of this world.