Intel reveals 7W Ivy Bridge CPUs, convertible Haswell ultrabook

Intel's CES press conference just wrapped up, and in it the firm revealed a number of details about not only its next-generation PC platforms, but also a new spin on the current one. Those rumored ultra-low-wattage Ivy Bridge chips are for real, and they're even more power-efficient than initially expected. Intel is now shipping Ivy-based Core processors with 7W thermal envelopes. These chips offer five times the performance of Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor, says Intel VP Kirk Skaugen, and they'll be found in products available in the next couple of months.

One of those new 7W systems is Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 11S, which will start at a reasonable $799. Skaugen also demonstrated an unnamed Acer tablet that's nearly as thin as the current-generation iPad but supports processors in the Core i7 family. The Acer system has a 1080p display, weighs about 1.8 lbs, and will be available in the spring.

Later this year, we can expect the first ultrabooks and tablets based on Intel's next-gen Core microarchitecture, otherwise known as Haswell. According to Skaugen, Haswell represents the biggest generational increase in battery life in the history of Intel processors. Ultrabooks based on the platform will "absolutely" deliver all-day battery life, he says.

While Skaugen stopped short of outlining specific battery life standards for the next wave of ultrabooks, he did mention a couple of other requirements. To bear the ultrabook badge, Haswell-based designs will have to integrate Intel's WiDi wireless display technology. Touchscreens are mandatory, as well, which makes a certain amount of sense given the firm's assertion that the lines between the various kinds of mobile computing devices are blurring. Convertibles are the future, a sentiment that's underscored by Intel's reference design for Haswell ultrabooks: a Transformer-style hybrid split between a detachable tablet and keyboard dock.

This new "North Cape" reference design meaures 17 mm thick with the keyboard attached and just 10 mm without. The tablet portion offers 10 hours of battery life on its own, while the dock's auxiliary battery kicks in an additional three hours. We don't know the weight of the complete system, but the tablet portion weighs 1.9 lbs and will support Core i7-class CPUs. Interestingly, hitting a button causes the 11.6" screen to display a 13.3" picture via a "smart frame" feature that relies in part on special graphics voodoo. Skaugen didn't explain this feature in detail, and I'm very curious to see how it works.

Arguably the biggest complaint about ultrabooks is high prices, and it seems help is on the way. By the end of next-year, touch-enabled ultrabooks (will there be any other kind at that point?) are supposed to drop to $599. Skaugen claimed Intel has 140 ultrabook design wins, although it's unclear what percentage of those will be available at such an affordable price.

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