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Asus' Ivy Bridge-powered N56VM notebook


15.6 inches of Ivy goodness
— 12:19 AM on May 24, 2012

At last, Ivy Bridge is out. Surely that means a tidal wave of next-generation ultrabooks is about to hit. Surely we're about to slice our fingers on Ivy Bridge-powered systems so thin they can be classified as bladed weapons.

Well, maybe we are. Just not quite yet.

In a disappointing turn of events, last month's big Ivy Bridge launch didn't bring us dual-core, 17W chips ready for ultrabooks. Those are coming, but later this year—perhaps early June, if we're to believe the rumor mill. For now, the best we've got are mobile Ivy Bridge CPU models based on the same silicon as their existing desktop brethren.

In short, these mobile Ivy Bridges are fabbed on a 22-nm process with four cores and up to eight threads. They have as much as 8MB of L3 cache, DirectX 11-capable integrated graphics, PCI Express 3.0, and of course, the same architectural improvements that make Ivy Bridge faster, clock for clock, than Sandy Bridge. To top it off, Ivy Bridge has higher performance per watt than its predecessor.

We explored all of these improvements in detail in our Ivy Bridge desktop review last month. That's where you should head if you're dying to know about the nitty-gritty side of things.

What's on our agenda today is a look at a real, honest-to-goodness notebook PC based on one of those new quad-core Ivy Bridge chips. The machine has a 15.6" display and weighs in at just over six pounds, so in today's ultrabook-crazy world, it might seem like the notebook equivalent of the fat girl at the prom. Well, okay; maybe not. This Asus N56VM is quite elegant by full-sized laptop standards, and it has some neat perks, like a 1080p display with a matte finish. It's fast, too. The Core i7-3720QM processor ticking under the hood is the third-fastest mobile Ivy Bridge variant available today. Here's how it compares to the rest of Intel's mobile Ivy Bridge lineup:

Processor Core i7-3612QM Core i7-3610QM Core i7-3615QM Core i7-3720QM Core i7-3820QM Core i7-3920XM
TDP 35W 45W 45W 45W 45W 55W
Cores/threads 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8
Base speed (GHz) 2.1 2.3 2.3 2.6 2.7 2.9
Peak Turbo speed (GHz) SC 3.1 3.3 3.3 3.6 3.7 3.8
DC 3.0 3.2 3.2 3.5 3.6 3.7
QC 2.8 3.1 3.1 3.4 3.5 3.6
L3 cache 6MB 6MB 6MB 6MB 8MB 8MB
Intel HD Graphics 4000 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Base IGP speed (MHz) 650 650 650 650 650 650
Peak IGP speed (MHz) 1100 1200 1200 1250 1250 1300
Package rPGA, BGA-1224 rPGA BGA-1224 rPGA, BGA-1224 rPGA, BGA-1224 rPGA
Price N/A N/A N/A $378 $568 $1096

With a 45W power envelope, there's little chance of the i7-3720QM showing up in anything remotely thin or light. Still, if you don't mind a little bit of bulk in your backpack (or you're buying a laptop to serve as a glorified desktop machine), then the chip has undeniable appeal. Turbo Boost can take one of its cores up to a blistering 3.6GHz to speed up single-threaded tasks, and even when all four cores are busy, it'll run as fast as 3.4GHz if thermal constraints allow. The chip comes with the full-featured version of Intel's brand-spanking-new HD Graphics 4000 IGP, and like its mobile partners in crime, it supports DDR3 memory speeds up to 1600MHz.

The i7-3720QM even has the full array of enterprise-friendly features, like AES, TXT, and vPro support. The Core i7-3820QM and Core i7-3920XM do, as well, but slower members of the mobile Ivy family aren't so lucky.

 

Our host for this beast of a processor is, as we've said, the Asus N56VM. As I'm sure you can tell from the pictures above, we weren't lying about its aesthetic appeal. I guess if we're drawing comparisons to full-figured ladies, then this is more Christina Hendricks than anything. Rrrrrrawr.

This laptop came to us directly from Intel, but it's considerably closer to a real, honest-to-goodness retail product than the Sandy Bridge test vehicle we looked at last year. Asus actually plans to sell the N56VM eventually, although it's going to release a "very similar configuration," the N56VZ-DS71, beforehand. We're told that config will pack a slower Core i7-3610QM processor and a quicker GeForce GT 650M GPU. I don't know if pricing is final yet, but just to give you an idea, Asus mentioned figures in the $1149-1249 range.

 

Processor Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6GHz
Memory 8GB DDR3-1600 (2 DIMMs)
Chipset Intel HM76 Express
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000
Nvidia GeForce GT 630M (2GB DDR3)
Display 15.6" TFT with 1920x1080 resolution and LED backlight
Storage 750GB Seagate Momentus 7,200-RPM hard drive
Matshita UJ141AF Blu-ray combo drive
Audio HD audio via Realtek codec
Ports 4 USB 3.0
1 VGA
1 HDMI
1 Ethernet via Atheros AR816x controller
1 analog headphone/digital SPDIF port
1 analog microphone port 1 analog speaker port
Expansion slots 1 SD card reader
Communications 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Intel Centrino 2230
Bluetooth 4.0
Input devices Chiclet keyboard
Elan touchpad
Internal microphone
Camera 2.0-megapixel webcam
Dimensions 15.0" x 10.1" x 0.5-1.4" (381 x 257 x 12-35 mm)
Weight 6.02 lbs (2.73 kg)
Battery 56 Wh battery

Retail system or not, the N56VM has its bases covered on the hardware front. It delivers everything from Bluetooth to Blu-ray, with fancy Bang & Olufsen built-in speakers for good measure. All the USB ports are SuperSpeed-enabled, and in addition to a generous 8GB of system memory, it features GeForce GT 630M graphics with 2GB of DDR3 RAM. Nvidia's Optimus real-time switching functionality lets the GeForce kick in when it's needed and kick back the rest of the time, limiting power drain and maximizing battery life.

So, yes, not bad. Not bad at all.

Ready to see how well the N56VM fares under closer scrutiny? Read on.