Sandy Bridge: The mobile perspective

By now, chances are you’ve perused our review of Intel’s Sandy Bridge desktop processors and drawn your own conclusions about this new processor family. Conclusions like “wow, these are fast” and quite possibly “I want one.” Or perhaps “I don’t see what the big deal is,” assuming you’ve just upgraded to a previous-generation CPU and are trying to suppress your buyer’s remorse. Point is, this fresh batch of CPUs has set the high-water mark for what quad-core microprocessors can accomplish. Intel has hit another home run.

There is another side to Sandy Bridge we didn’t address in our original review, though. As Intel was rolling out the desktop processors we reviewed, it also introduced a whole family of quad- and dual-core mobile Sandy Bridge variants. We covered these mobile parts in the news earlier this month. The gist is that a handful of mobile quad-core Sandy Bridge CPUs are available now, and dual-core derivatives, both standard- and low-voltage, will follow next month.

As it happens, Intel has sent us a big honking behemoth of a notebook packing the Core i7-2820QM, its second-fastest mobile quad-core Sandy Bridge processor. This mobile chip features four cores, eight threads, a 2.3GHz base clock speed, a 3.4GHz maximum Turbo Boost speed, Intel HD Graphics 3000, and a 45W thermal envelope. It ain’t cheap (Intel quotes a $568 bulk asking price), but for folks seeking the latest and greatest in desktop-replacement notebooks, this is almost as good as it gets—at least in theory.

Over the next few pages, we’ll put this 17″ monster through our laptop testing suite in order to figure out just how quick this mobile incarnation of Sandy Bridge really is. We’ll also seek answers to more philosophical questions, like whether this year’s desktop replacement notebooks will still force users to deal with high heat output and low battery life. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the answers may surprise you—in a good way.

By the way, If you haven’t followed our prior Sandy Bridge coverage, I strongly recommend brushing up before getting to this piece. We won’t reiterate architectural details or discuss the mobile Sandy Bridge lineup, since we already did so in our desktop review and news coverage, respectively.

Intel’s Core i7-2820QM 17″ review notebook

At this point, some bona-fide desktop-replacement-class laptops based on Sandy Bridge have made it into the market. However, Intel sent us a test system that, as far as we can tell, doesn’t actually correspond to any shipping product. It was built by Taiwanese contract manufacturer Compal, contains a Core i7-2820QM running atop an Intel NAR00 LA-6211P notebook motherboard, and looks an awful lot like some of Gateway’s current offerings, albeit with a few little differences.

Where you might expect a Gateway logo at the back, there’s only a white sticker with “Intel” printed on it in black sans-serif type. Also, the left side of the chassis doesn’t play host to a fan exhaust. Funnily enough, however, a shiny Gateway logo is prominently displayed on the touchpad button. That button was covered by a white sticker, too, but I assumed the sticker was meant to come off there. Oops!

Maybe we’ll see Gateway introduce a similar laptop eventually, or maybe not. Right now, though, think of this machine as an Intel review system designed to give us a feel for how Sandy Bridge-powered desktop replacements will look, feel, and perform. There really isn’t a whole lot more to it.

Now that we’ve broken the ice, here’s a closer look at what this 17″ behemoth is packing. Intel actually shipped it to us with one of its 160GB X25-M solid-state drives, which we had to install in a mounting bracket and slip into the chassis ourselves. Considering the presence of a high-end CPU and a Blu-ray drive on top of that, this would be a relatively high-end offering if it were selling in stores:

Processor Intel Core-i7 2820QM 2.3GHz
Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 (2 DIMMs)
Chipset Intel HM67 Express
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 3000
Display 17″ TFT with 1600×900 resolution
Storage Intel X25-M G2 160GB solid-state drive

Hitachi-LG CT21N Blu-ray combo drive

Audio Stereo HD audio via Conexant CX2059x codec
Ports 1 USB 3.0

3 USB 2.0

1 eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port

1 HDMI

1 VGA

1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Atheros AR8151 controller

1 analog headphone output

1 analog microphone input

Expansion slots
1 MMC/SDHC
Communications 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Intel Centrino Wireless-N 1030
Input devices Keyboard with numpad

Touchpad

Internal microphone

Camera 0.3-megapixel webcam
Dimensions 16.2″ x 11.1″ x 1.3-1.7″ (412 x 281 x 33-42 mm)
Weight 7.1 lbs (3.22 kg) with battery
Battery Li-ion 4800 mAh, 71 Wh

A couple of interesting things to note: there are no discrete graphics, so this is more of a mobile workstation than a gaming notebook, and the battery is relatively beefy at 71 Wh. The battery in the last mobile test platform Intel sent us was a paltry 42Wh, and it only kept the system running for less than an hour of web browsing. With a 71-Wh battery, one would hope this machine will stay up for at least a couple hours, if not more. We’ll test that in a bit.

By the way, forgive the relative terseness of the table above. Since we had neither an official product sheet nor much pre-installed software and drivers beyond what’s necessary for the Intel gear to run, trying to find out details about, say, the system’s touchpad was an exercise in futility. Again, though, you’re highly unlikely to find this particular machine in stores, so such specifics don’t matter very much.

What really matters is how the components above perform and how the whole system feels. We’re going to explore the hardware a little more over the next couple of pages, then we’ll get into the hard numbers. Sound good? Okay, keep your seatbelts on.

The display and the controls

Intel’s Sandy Bridge review notebook comes with an eminently decent display, which has a 1600×900 resolution and exhibits a proper amount of luminosity. If I were ponying up a grand or two for a chunky desktop replacement myself, I’d probably spring for a 1080p panel. 1.4 megapixels is already plenty, though. Besides, since there’s no discrete graphics chip in this particular machine, the Sandy Bridge IGP should have an easier time cranking out playable frame rates at a lower native resolution.

Looking down, the keyboard delivers pretty much what you’d expect from a large desktop replacement notebook. There’s a numeric keypad, and as you can see in the table below, the keys are large enough to match those of our reference full-sized keyboard almost exactly. The whole thing feels pretty comfortable to use, with nice tactile feedback and minimal flex.

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 280 mm 110 mm 30,800 mm² 170 mm 57 mm 9,690 mm²
Versus full size 98% 100% 98% 99% 100% 99%

The touchpad didn’t have any surprises in store, either. Well, except for the fact that, without any drivers on the image Intel provided us, multi-touch gestures weren’t recognized. Too bad. You wouldn’t run into that problem with a retail system, of course.

Connectivity and expansion

As you’d expect from a desktop replacement laptop, this system is relatively well-endowed in terms of connectivity. The left side plays host to Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, USB/eSATA, audio, and USB ports, not to mention a card reader.

The right side houses an additional two USB ports and a slim Blu-ray drive. Note the power button sitting near the hinge, too:

Flip the system over, and you might be surprised to find few fan exhausts. Indeed, the only lateral exhaust is at the rear, and there aren’t a whole lot of intakes on the underside:

  

Pop off the various panels, and you get something that looks a little like the picture above. Here, we can see the 2.5″ drive tray, the RAM, the heat pipe connected to the CPU and chipset, and the 71 Wh battery, which is completely dwarfed by the rest of the system.

Believe it or not, I could only see a single fan cooling this machine. From what I could tell during my unsuccessful attempt to disassemble the system further, the heatsink involved isn’t very beefy, either. Clearly, in 2011, having a state-of-the-art mobile CPU doesn’t mean needing to lug around several pounds of copper and aluminum to cool the darn thing. We’ll get to the thermal implications of all this soon enough, but first, let’s get our benchmarking on!

Our testing methods

We took this Sandy Bridge review notebook through not just our mobile test suite, but also a handful of additional benchmarks in order to compare it to the chips from our desktop Sandy Bridge review. We’ll do the desktop comparison first, then we’ll get into the traditional mobile suite. The Intel notebook was tested using the Balanced power profile throughout. We made extra-sure the profile wasn’t configured to limit the CPU clock speed.

What about our other guinea pigs? You can check out test notes and testing methods about the desktop comparison here. As for the mobile contenders, the N82Jv, U33Jc, Eee PC 1015PN, and T235D were all tested using special “battery-saving” profiles, and the N82Jv, U33Jc, and 1015PN were run in “high-performance” mode, too. With the N82Jv, we recorded our battery-saving results with Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine on, which dropped the CPU clock speed from 2.4GHz to 0.9-1GHz depending on the load. The U33Jc also has a Super Hybrid Engine mode, but we didn’t enable it for testing. On the U33Jc, the high-performance profile included by Asus raises the maximum CPU clock speed from 2.4 to 2.57GHz. On the N82Jv, the same profile leaves the CPU running at default speeds, i.e. up to 2.66GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in. Finally, with the Eee PC, the low-power profile limited the CPU to about 1GHz and disabled the Nvidia GPU, while the high-performance profile raised the CPU speed by a whole 25MHz.

We’ve also included some numbers from an AMD Zacate test system, which should correspond to new offerings with AMD’s E-350 APU. This is hardly a competitor to Sandy Bridge, since AMD targets it at very cheap and low-power laptops and netbooks, but it does complete the picture we’ve painted of the current ultraportable landscape.

With the exception of battery life, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those runs.

System AMD Zacate test system Acer Aspire 1810TZ Acer Aspire 1830TZ Asus Eee PC 1015PN Asus N82Jv Asus U33Jc Intel Core i7-2820QM 17″ review notebook Toshiba Satellite T235D-S1435 Zotac Zbox HD-ND22
Processor AMD Zacate engineering sample 1.6GHz Intel Pentium SU4100 1.3GHz Intel Pentium U5400 1.2GHz Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-450M 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-2820QM 2.3GHz AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz Intel Celeron SU2300 1.2GHz
North bridge AMD Hudson FCH Intel GS45 Express Intel HM55 Express Intel NM10 Intel HM55 Express Intel HM55 Express Intel HM67 Express AMD M880G Nvidia Ion
South bridge Intel ICH9 AMD SB820
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs) 1GB (1 DIMM) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type DDR3 SDRAM DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
Memory timings N/A 5-5-5-15 6-6-6-15 6-5-5-12 7-7-7-20 7-7-7-20 11-11-11-30 6-6-6-15 7-7-7-20
Audio IDT codec Realtek codec with 6.0.1.869 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6043 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6186 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6024 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6029 drivers Conexant codec with 4.127.0.60 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.6072 drivers Realtek codec with 6.0.1.5845 drivers
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6310 Intel GMA 4500MHD with 15.17.11.2202 drivers Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2057 drivers Intel GMA 3150 with 8.14.10.2117 drivers

Nvidia Ion with 8.17.12.5912 drivers

Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2189 drivers

Nvidia GeForce 335M with 8.17.12.5896 drivers

Intel HD Graphics with 8.15.10.2119 drivers

Nvidia GeForce 310M with 8.17.12.5721 drivers

Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 8.15.10.2246 drivers AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers Nvidia Ion with 8.17.12.6099 drivers
Hard drive Crucial RealSSD C300 128GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7,200-RPM Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400-RPM Intel X25-M G2 160GB solid-state drive Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB 5,400 RPM
Operating system Windows 7 Professional x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Starter x86 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64 Windows 7 Home Premium x64

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Desktop versus mobile

To keep things simple, we’ve tossed the numbers for the Intel review notebook into our charts from the desktop review. That way, you can see how the Core i7-2820QM compares to not just its desktop brethren, but also to distant cousins and not-quite-rivals from the AMD camp. Our new contender is highlighted in orange just like the desktop Sandy Bridge parts.

No big surprises here. The DDR3-1600 RAM in this laptop is clearly doing its job, as is the finely tuned memory controller common to the desktop and mobile incarnations of Intel’s new architecture.

Latency also appears to be roughly where it should be, although I must point out that we calculated the figure for this notebook CPU differently. With the desktop parts, we grabbed the latency number in cycles from CPU-Z and divided it by the peak Turbo clock speed to obtain nanoseconds. Using that formula with the Core i7-2820QM yielded a clearly skewed number, and after further investigation, we found that the latency test didn’t push the Core i7-2820QM beyond its base clock speed of 2.3GHz. So, we used that number as part of our equation instead of the peak Turbo speed of 3.4GHz.

What about application performance? Let’s start with 7-Zip’s built-in compression and decompression benchmarks:

Not bad. The Core i7-2820QM manages to outrun the Core i5-2500K, which has a much quicker base speed of 3.3GHz and a top Turbo Boost speed of 3.7GHz, albeit with no Hyper-Threading capabilities.

The mobile Core i7 falls behind the desktop i5-2500K in our x264 video encoding test, but not by much.

Ditto for The Panorama Factory, where the i7-2820QM shadows the 3.1GHz Core i5-2400.

I didn’t whip up a bar chart for this last test, but out of sheer curiosity, I ran Prime95 for five minutes on the Intel review notebook, hoping to see the extent to which the Core i7-2820QM was fulfilling its Turbo potential. I used Intel’s Turbo monitoring gadget for Windows 7 and kept an eye on the reported clock speed. Surprisingly, even with eight threads active across its four cores, the CPU settled in and ran at a sustained 2.6GHz, 300MHz above the CPU’s base speed. Higher frequencies are possible, of course, with fewer active threads, but even with a rather heavy multithreaded workload, this system keeps the CPU running well above its rated speed. The desktop Sandy Bridge CPUs and motherboards we’ve tested, by comparison, tend to limit the CPU clock to 100MHz beyond the base frequency when running the same test.

Obviously, the Core i7-2820QM performs admirably when running side-by-side with its desktop siblings. There’s no shadow of a doubt that this big, chunky notebook really is a proper desktop replacement. Now, how does it compare to the laptops we’ve reviewed in recent months? Let’s find out.

Application performance

SunSpider JavaScript benchmark

The SunSpider JavaScript benchmark has become a staple of browser testing around the web, usually serving to highlight differences in JavaScript execution speeds between browser revisions. Today, we’ll be looking at SunSpider performance with the same browser (Firefox 3.6.9) across multiple notebooks.

After what we saw on the previous page, this result may induce some head scratching. My guess is that the “high performance” profiles on the Asus N82Jv and U33Jc push the CPU clock speed rather aggressively, and the Sandy Bridge laptop wasn’t as zealous when running with Windows 7’s Balanced power profile—at least in this test.

7-Zip

We then ran 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark and jotted down the results for both compression and decompression.

Well good morning, sleepy head! After a slow start in SunSpider, the Sandy Bridge review notebook wakes up, trouncing the competition by quite a considerable margin in 7-Zip.

TrueCrypt

Next up: file encryption. Because who wants any two-bit thief to have access to his sensitive data? We ran TrueCrypt’s built-in benchmark and averaged the results for all of the different encryption schemes.

x264 video encoding

Last, but not least, we took our notebooks through the x264 high-definition video encoding benchmark.

So, yeah. While completely repeatable, those SunSpider results were pretty much a fluke. It looks like in any truly demanding workload, the Core i7-2820QM  zooms past previous-generation offerings. Keep in mind the N82Jv and U33Jc were both packing dual-core CPUs, however, so this isn’t entirely a fair fight. These charts nevertheless show just how much extra oomph you’re likely to get from a quad-core Sandy Bridge notebook. That data is going to come in handy when we look at battery life numbers shortly—but before that, let’s run some games on this bad boy.

Gaming

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Infinity Ward’s first Modern Warfare title is growing somewhat long in the tooth, but it still has a strong following in multiplayer circles. More importantly, it’s a good representative of the type of game you might want to play on a notebook that lacks first-rate GPU horsepower: not too old, but not too new, either. We tested Call of Duty 4 by running a custom timedemo, first at 800×600 with the lowest detail options, then again at 1366×768 with everything cranked up except for v-sync, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering, which were all left disabled. (With the Eee PC, we opted for the 1024×600 native resolution instead of 1366×768.)

Whoa. In Call of Duty 4, the Core i7-2820QM’s integrated graphics component manages to keep up with the discrete GeForce 310M GPU from our Asus U33Jc. Impressive stuff. 

Far Cry 2

Ubisoft’s safari-themed shooter has much more demanding graphics than CoD4, so it should really make our notebooks sweat. We selected the “Action” scene from the game’s built-in benchmark and ran it in two configurations; first at 1366×768 in DirectX 10 mode with detail cranked up, then at that same resolution in DX9 mode with the lowest detail preset. Vsync and antialiasing were left disabled in both cases. (Again, the Eee PC was run at 1024×600, since that’s the highest resolution its display supports.)

Our observation for Call of Duty 4 also applies to Far Cry 2, more or less. Sandy Bridge’s IGP looks to be even quicker than the GeForce 310M at Far Cry 2‘s highest detail setting, but neither config really produces playable frame rates. I should point out that the Intel HD Graphics 3000 IGP didn’t produce any visual glitches or anomalies in either Far Cry 2 and Call of Duty 4, though. While not always known for their broad compatibility with real games, Intel’s graphics drivers did their job there.

Off the beaten path

Now that the scientific game testing is out of the way, let’s try to run a few other titles and get a feel for the kinds of settings this notebook lets us use. As with the scientific tests, we’ll be keeping an eye out for incompatibilities and graphical anomalies.

Borderlands started off our round of subjective testing. I was able to run this game at 1366×768 with frame rates in the 20-50 FPS range after disabling anisotropic filtering, dynamic shadows, ambient occlusion, bloom, depth of field, and flare outs. Foliage, textures, and game detail were all set to “high.” Even during combat, frame rates only rarely dipped below the neighborhood of 30 FPS—very playable and not at all an impediment to post-apocalyptic fragging. Chalk up another win for Intel’s HD Graphics 3000.

Next up was Just Cause 2, which didn’t fare quite as well. Compatibility and image quality were fine, but even with detail settings turned all the way down, frame rates dipped into the teens during combat and vehicle chases at 1366×768. The game was playable but not smooth or particularly enjoyable. This is a particularly demanding title, however, so we weren’t surprised by the lackluster performance.

Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2 was next, offering silky-smooth zombie killing and, unfortunately, our first brush with Intel IGP-related incompatibilities. This title seemed to crash with film grain enabled, and using “high” or “very high” shader detail messed up the rendering of some reflective textures (like the ones on the pistols). Still, with medium shader detail, high effects detail, high model and texture detail, and other settings turned down or disabled, I got around 40-75 FPS at 1600×900 in the first level of the Dead Center campaign.

I rounded off my subjective testing with the Mafia II demo. As you’ve probably guessed from the lack of a screenshot, this game refused to run altogether. Perhaps the full version would have worked better—I don’t know, and I didn’t have time to purchase and download it. I’ve seen that demo run just fine on various GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, though, so the Intel IGP must be at fault here.

In the end, out of six games, we’ve got one no-show, one instance of relatively minor graphical incompatibilities, and one game that just didn’t run very smoothly. That’s definitely not bad at all for Intel integrated graphics, but clearly, the blue team still needs to work on its drivers. If it does, we could soon end up with a new generation of latops, from low-end dual-core models to high-end quad-core designs like this one, that offer acceptable gaming performance out of the box without the need for discrete graphics. I really hope Intel follows through and doesn’t squander the potential of what’s clearly some capable integrated graphics hardware.

Video playback

We tested video decoding performance by playing the Iron Man 2 trailer in a variety of formats. Windows Media Player was used in full-screen mode for the H.264 QuickTime clips, while Firefox was used for the windowed YouTube test. In each case, we used Windows 7’s Performance Monitor to record minimum and maximum CPU utilization for the duration of the trailer.

  CPU utilization Result
Iron Man 2 H.264 480p 0-5.6% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 720p 0-5.2% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p 0-4.3% Perfect
Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed 8.2-15.8% Perfect

You weren’t expecting a quad-core, eight-thread Sandy Bridge chip to somehow trip over itself and fail to play back high-definition video smoothly with low CPU utilization, were you? Heck, the CPU didn’t even have to work all that hard thanks to the video acceleration in the IGP.

Battery life

We took our laptops through two battery life tests—but not before taking care to condition the battery by cycling it two times. For the web browsing test, we used TR Browserbench 1.0, which consists of a static version of the TR home page that cycles through different text content, Flash ads, and images, all the while refreshing every 45 seconds. Then, we tested video playback in Windows Media Player by looping an episode of CSI: New York encoded with H.264 at 480p resolution (straight from an HTPC).

We attempted to keep the display brightness consistent across all four systems, choosing levels correspond to a readable brightness in indoor lighting. A 40% brightness setting was used on the Intel review notebook as well as the Acer 1810TZ, Toshiba Satellite T235D, Asus N82Jv, and Eee PC 1015PN in its “Super Performance” mode. We used a 50% setting on the Eee PC 1015PN in “Battery Saving” mode, since disabling the Nvidia GPU seemed to reduce brightness, as well as on the U33Jc.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the money shot. While the 71-Wh battery is no doubt a big help, six hours of unplugged web browsing for a quad-core, eight-thread desktop replacement notebook is nothing short of phenomenal. Some folks might be inclined to credit the solid-state drive for the long run time, but keep in mind we measured the impact of SSDs on battery life a little while ago, and the difference only amounted to a few percent. Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform really does deserve most, if not all, of the credit here.

Surface temperatures

How hot to the touch does this big honkin’ notebook get during an average surfing session? We let the run TR browserbench 1.0 for about an hour before measuring surface temperatures using our IR thermometer from 1″ away.

26°C

78°F

  24°C

75°F

  27°C

81°F

 
25°C

78°F

  24°C

76°F

 

24°C

74°F

  26°C

78°F

  30°C

86°F

 
25°C

76°F

  25°C

77°F

On the heels of those mind-boggling battery life numbers, the temperatures above should come as no surprise. The Sandy Bridge review notebook runs awfully cool during a web browsing session, so much so that the fan doesn’t really spin up in a noticeable fashion. You could almost use this thing on your lap without discomfort—you know, if it weren’t so big.

Conclusions

Although we have yet to test retail products based on Sandy Bridge’s mobile incarnations, I think the verdict is pretty clear, at least as far as the quad-core Core i7-2820QM goes. That chip enabled Intel’s review notebook to plow through our synthetic and application tests with almost the same ferocity as a desktop offering of the same class, yet power consumption was low enough to enable an impressive six hours of web browsing with our 71-Wh battery. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the i7-2820QM truly delivers the best of both worlds: desktop-class performance with true notebook mobility.

The Core i7-2820QM deserves some accolades for its gaming performance, as well, however stifled that might have been by Intel’s still-immature drivers. Provided Intel continues to release new drivers with compatibility improvements, I think we may find ourselves in a world where notebooks really don’t need discrete GPUs unless they’re to be used for serious gaming. The fact that Intel is offering HD Graphics 3000 across its entire mobile lineup may mean even relatively low-end, dual-core Sandy Bridge notebooks will pack the same punch as last year’s laptops with decent discrete GPUs. That’d be huge, and I think it’d be a boon to PC gaming as a whole.

Now, considering the excellent run times exhibited by this notebook with a 45W mobile Sandy Bridge CPU, I think we can get a little adventurous and extrapolate that dual-core Sandy Bridge mobile chips with 35W, 25W, and 17W TDPs will enable even better run times—perhaps better than what previous-generation machines with similar-wattage processors could achieve. That could leave us with a whole generation of not just highly capable notebooks that can do a reasonable job with games, but also notebooks that transcend previous mobility expectations. I have my fingers crossed, and I’m rather excited to get my hands on some dual-core Sandy Bridge laptops.

Comments closed
    • TREE
    • 9 years ago

    Why is everyone complaining about the weight of the laptop and its size. The purpose of this review, if you could call it that, was to give an early insight into the emerging Sandy Bridge mobile CPU line. From the results obtained here and from the specifications of the laptop you can easily guesstimate as to how well a dual core variant of the CPU will perform.

    /Facepalm

    • Hattig
    • 9 years ago

    I know it’s a desktop replacement with ‘luggability’ rather than a laptop to be used on the go, but it’s over 7 lbs! Sheesh. It’s also certainly not useful for gaming purposes, it really needs discrete graphics. The battery life is okay however – due mostly to the massive, heavy battery and the reality that most people using notebooks don’t need a eight-thread quad-core CPU, hence half the chip will be asleep and unused most of the time (see the battery life tests in this review). Why pay for that?

    I have to say this machine looks like a total joke to me, compared with a far cheaper, lighter, dual-core, quad-thread Sandy Bridge laptop with discrete graphics. It’s incredibly heavy for a start – you’d probably be better off paying the same money for two computers with monitors at both locations you would use it, and using cloud sync for your data. I certainly wouldn’t want to be commuting for two hours each day with this behemoth hanging from my shoulder whilst I’m forced to stand on the tube.

    As a desktop replacement it’s great – if it stays on the desktop. So … get a bloody desktop computer and a nice 24″ LED monitor.

    • Joachim21
    • 9 years ago

    The problem is the price. How much will it cost in the EU? I think more than 3 or 4 month paymant of an ordinary eastern european. What do the retailers will offer? Buy it on a loan deal. Of course, we should borrow money, to buy this machine even more expensive. Intel can put this thing into the @ss of Paul Otellini!

    • Incubus
    • 9 years ago

    The AMD Zacate seems like a better choice to me.
    3 kilos is too much to carry around,and considering most people including myself don’t use note/netbooks as gaming machines, theres no reason to buy these heavy hot notebooks with relatively low battery life.
    all i do on my notebook is watching 720/1080p movie,vids on youtube,some quick lightwork and checking my email from time to time.
    BTW theres no way an Intel HD3000 or Ion would beat an HD6310 in gaming or movie playback.
    considering the Ion comes with an Atom Cpu which is twice as slow as the Zacate in most cases and the Nvidia integrated tegra is pretty little to be considered.
    as for the Intel 3000HD its just in a different category.
    the only thing I like about those sandybridge CPUs is the dedicated trancoder on the cpu for faster video transcoding.

      • djgandy
      • 9 years ago

      Well this is not even in the same market. Also much lighter SB laptops will be on the way. This was just a review to show how the mobile platform is shaping up, not a statement that there will only be a single SB laptop and this is it.

    • Firestarter
    • 9 years ago

    Looks like this integrated GPU beats the Ati Mobility X1600 GPU of yesteryear.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 9 years ago

    Almost time for me to buy a new notebook.

    • nico1982
    • 9 years ago

    I’m really curious to see what i3/i5 SB ULV will be capable of. Once factored in smaller capacity and smaller headroom for improvement over the previous generation, is operating time north of 10 hours too far fetched?

      • UberGerbil
      • 9 years ago

      With a big enough battery, [i<]nothing[/i<] is far fetched.

      • djgandy
      • 9 years ago

      I’d hope to get 8-10hrs from a 48mAh on an SB ULV. Providing the chipset stays lightweight and the GPU is decent I don’t think that is beyond reasonable.

    • NeelyCam
    • 9 years ago

    >$500 for this CPU? What is that, an 80-90% margin?

    This is sick.

      • Dashak
      • 9 years ago

      So don’t buy it. TR puts out systems guides for a reason.

      • Althernai
      • 9 years ago

      You can buy the 2630QM instead — 80%+ of the performance for a third of the price.

    • ltcommander.data
    • 9 years ago

    [url<]http://software.intel.com/en-us/articles/intel-graphics-developers-guides/[/url<] I don't remember seeing any reviews mention or test this, but according to Intel's developer white paper on Sandy Bridge, the IGP is actually GPGPU capable with Intel supporting Compute Shader 4.x as mentioned on pg 14 and pg 16. Can Tech Report look into this, perhaps comparing performance to say the 9400M/Ion for CS4.0 and the 320M for CS4.1? With AMD and nVidia pushing GPGPU, it's great that Intel is also joining in even if their GPU history hasn't been superb to date. It'll also be interesting to get a comment from Intel whether hardware accelerated OpenCL on the IGP is possible after-all rather than just their current alpha release CPU OpenCL drivers. A DX10/DX10.1 GPU (HD2000/HD3000 or previous Intel IGP) doesn't guarantee Compute Shader or OpenCL support, but so far every GPU that has supported Compute Shader (G80/CS4.0 and HD4000/CS4.1) has also supported OpenCL, so you'd think that it'd be the case here for OpenCL support. Certainly that would be the last checkbox that Apple would like to use an Intel IGP to directly replace the 320M in future refreshes.

      • JumpingJack
      • 9 years ago

      There is an obscure quote at bit-tech:

      [quote<]Let's also not forget OpenCL. We initially asked Intel about OpenCL support at the Clarkdale launch. The company said then it was aiming for mid-2010. As there's still no OpenCL support we asked again recently and were told: '[Intel] will be releasing OpenCL graphics drivers to developers during the course of 2011. [Intel] continue to evaluate when and where OpenCL will intercept various products.'[/quote<] [url<]http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/graphics/2011/01/27/intel-hd-graphics-3000-performance-review/8[/url<]

        • ltcommander.data
        • 9 years ago

        Very interesting. With OpenCL support possible and coming this year, I guess this solidifies Apple using Sandy Bridge in future MacBook Air and 13″ MacBook Pro refreshes where the IGP is a side-grade from the 320M feature and performance-wise, which isn’t ideal but impressive with it being from Intel, and the CPU proper being much improved over Penryn Core 2 Duo.

        Now if only Intel can find a standardized way of keeping the IGP optionally active even when a discrete GPU is plugged in so that not only do value users make use of the IGP but also power users. With Intel owning Havok and Havok slowly adding OpenCL support across it’s various toolsets, they are definitely well positioned to produce an optimal scenario where a game uses the discrete GPU(s) for graphics, the IGP for GPGPU physics, and the multi-core CPU for AI and the rest of the game logic.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    I’d like to see how these stack up to bobcat in terms of performance/power. AMD is done.

      • esterhasz
      • 9 years ago

      Ah, like, cost? And it don’t make the Interwebs any faster either…

        • sweatshopking
        • 9 years ago

        YES IT DOES. it will make the internet faster. maybe a few milliseconds so, but over a few years, you might gain most of a minute.

        cost? what are you poor? who cares? if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. you better have the Benjamin’s if you want to come and play with the big boys. LIKE ME.

          • esterhasz
          • 9 years ago

          I’m so getting a SB MacBook Pro.

          • 5150
          • 9 years ago

          I thought you were still running a Pentium Pro.

            • sweatshopking
            • 9 years ago

            no. i got a free q6600 cpu and mobo. so i’m rocking that now. I was just horsing around. I’m not allowed to spend money on computer stuff. extra income goes to hay and tack.

            • Jambe
            • 9 years ago

            What sorts of horses do you have?

            • sweatshopking
            • 9 years ago

            a welsh pony, and a bashkir curly, currently. we sold our thoroughbreds

            • Jambe
            • 9 years ago

            Oh how cool. I want a curly at some point. My grandpa raised working Belgians. I recently met some horses descended (like eight generations) from some of his stock. Massive big things… beautiful though.

          • codedivine
          • 9 years ago

          So I assume you are selling your horses to get a SB notebook?

            • sweatshopking
            • 9 years ago

            um no. i’m not allowed to buy computer parts.

            • NeelyCam
            • 9 years ago

            Are you allowed to [i<]steal[/i<] computer parts? How about if you don't get caught?

    • 5150
    • 9 years ago

    Great article! I can’t wait for Dell to release the Precision M4600, looks like it should be an awesome machine.

    • Kurotetsu
    • 9 years ago

    Are there any external hard drives or other device that actually fully use the eSATA/USB combo ports?

      • 5150
      • 9 years ago

      You can get a single cable that will convert both plugs on the hard drive to a single eSATA/USB port so you don’t need additional power for the drive. They’re pretty damn handy!

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