Reading through Joel’s review of the Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K, I couldn’t help but wonder about its target audience. On the one hand, Ivy Bridge is better than Sandy Bridge in every way — you get better CPU and GPU performance at the same price point — but really, what’s a top-of-the-line CPU doing with an integrated GPU?
I’ve been sitting here, scratching my head, thinking of use cases for a Core i7-3770K. If you already have a Sandy Bridge machine — a Core i7-2700K (or 3820) — there’s very little reason to spend $315 on the 3770K, or any other Ivy Bridge launch chip, especially as some of the more compelling features (USB 3.0, PCIe 3.0) require a new motherboard as well. Even new computer buyers — why would they buy an (expensive) system with an uber CPU, but a GPU that can’t keep up?
And then I realized my mistake: I’ve been constraining my thoughts to the wrong form factor. Ivy Bridge is all about mobile performance, mobile screen resolutions, and mobile gaming. When you constrain your focus to laptops, Ivy Bridge simply blows the competition — AMD — out of the water. CPU-wise, the high-end Ivy Bridge mobile Core i7-3720QM is more than twice as fast as AMD’s mobile Llano parts. Even on the GPU front, a domain that AMD had no doubt hoped to remain ruler, Intel’s HD 4000 is faster than the “discrete integrated” mobile Radeon HD 6-series core. (The desktop Llano GPU parts are still faster than the desktop Ivy Bridge GPU, but not by much.) It’s hard to overstate the advances that Intel has made — The HD 4000 is some 50% faster than the HD 3000. It’s too early to be certain, but it would seem that Intel has finally worked out how to make a GPU.
Dominating the competition in terms of performance isn’t enough in today’s battery-oriented world, though — but fortunately, because Ivy Bridge is a 22nm die shrink “tick,” it’s incredibly power efficient. A complete Core i7-3770K system (without discrete graphics) idles at a power consumption of just 43 watts, and 102 watts under load — this is for a chip that has a TDP of 77W. We don’t have exact numbers for the mobile Ivy Bridge parts, and TDP isn’t the same as power consumption, but Intel lists the TDP of the Core i7-3720QM as 45W. This is comparable to the mobile AMD Llano parts — but remember, the Intel chip is significantly faster.
Ultimately, Ivy Bridge is the first example of Intel using its superior fabrication process to tighten its mobile platform thumbscrews. This is an issue for AMD, which has all but given up on competing on raw performance, instead focusing on more efficient heterogeneous computing — and now Intel rolls up with its new HD 4000 and 22nm process, all but decimating AMD’s lead. There’s no way that AMD will catch Intel on CPU performance, and while GlobalFoundries and TSMC are stuck at 28 and 32nm it’s unlikely that Sunnyvale will remain competitive in terms of power consumption either, unless it has some kind of miraculous response to Ivy Bridge and next year’s Haswell.
AMD still has an edge on GPU tech, and we’ve seen the potential speed-up that could be achieved with heterogeneous computing, but really we’re years away from developers, compilers, and operating systems supporting truly heterogeneous system architectures. Even with Trinity waiting in the wings, it doesn’t look good for AMD on either the desktop or laptop — and with Medfield making a strong debut on smartphones and tablets, Intel is in a very strong position indeed.