Introduction, Product Specifications And Line-Up
Earlier this year I penned an editorial about ultrabooks. It wasn’t all that nice. I pointed out that they are slow, that they require design sacrifices that not everyone will enjoy and that ultraportables often provide a better experience at the same price or lower.
Since then I’ve also discovered, through various reviews, that ultrabooks so far have not shown any battery life advantage over ultraportables. The advantage of a low-voltage processor is consistently negated by the smaller batteries squeezed into Intel’s thin form-factor.
I’m not on the bandwagon. This, however, should not come as a surprise. It’s exceedingly rare for a company, even of Intel’s size, to knock a new product out of the park on its first try. The models that released so far were decent products in some ways, but they were also the hardware equivalent of a beta. Intel and laptop manufacturers are now responding to what they’ve discovered.
This brings us to Ivy Bridge. As I noted in my Ivy Bridge for mobile review, Intel’s architectural update seems to be more exciting for laptops than for desktops. The Core i7-3720QM we received in our Ivy Bridge reference laptop was a beast, easily defeating all previous processor benchmarks and also posting surprisingly good results in gaming tests. Despite this, battery life seemed to at least remain the same.
Introduction, Overview, What is New With Ivy Bridge
This article will focus on the new Ivy Bridge, 3rd Generation Core Processor from a mobile perspective. If you are curious as the performance and features of the Ivy Bridge desktop processors, be sure to check out our desktop Core i7-3770K review here.
It would be an understatement to say that Intel’s had a good streak as of, say, the last five years. If life was commented on by the announcer from Unreal Tournament, Intel’s product releases would now be followed by the scream of “M-M-M-MONSTER KILLLLLLLL!” This is particularly true in the mobile market. Atom aside, Intel’s processors have repeatedly defeated AMD and its own preceding products.
Many companies in this position might feel it’s time to take a breather, but Intel has reached this point precisely because it doesn’t. The “tick-tock” strategy of constant improvement has made the company and its products stronger than ever before. Even the Pentium-powered Intel of the mid-90s seems weak compared to today’s juggernaut.
And so we come to the launch of Ivy Bridge. This is not a new architecture but instead an update of Sandy Bridge – however, that does not mean the under-the-hood revisions aren’t substantial. There’s a lot to talk about.
The reference system provided for our review is an ASUS N56VM, but this is not a full review of the laptop. That will be published later, after we’ve had more time to look at the laptop itself. Our focus today is on the new Intel hardware inside.
Let’s get to it.
Pricing research is an important part of our laptop reviews. We always price out the laptops we receive on the website of the manufacturer and popular e-tailers, such as Amazon and Newegg. We also look at similarly priced laptops to judge how well a product’s value stacks up against the competition.
Still, mistakes happen. HP altered us to one such error in our recent HP dm4 review. In that review we discovered that the HP dm4 Beats Edition cost $1169 if customized with the hardware we received, which was far too much given the laptop’s entry-level roots. However, we missed a quick-ship option that configures the laptop as it was received for just $899. That’s $270 less.
HP also told us that Wal-Mart is selling the HP dm4 Beats Edition. We looked in to it and found that the review configuration is currently out of stock, but if you don’t mind a slight downgrade in processor performance and the loss of the solid state drive, you can pick up the laptop for $798.
Such a large difference in price would have an impact on any review, but it’s particularly important in this case. We didn’t find anything wrong with the laptop’s performance. We also praised its 1600x900 matte display and decent, though not excellent, user interface. It was the price we could not tolerate – paying HP Envy bucks for a gussied-up dm4 didn’t strike us as a great value.
The correction in pricing has resulted in a change in the review’s conclusion. The laptop now earns a Gold Award. In fact, buying the pre-configured dm4 Beats Edition actually appears less expensive than buying the basic HP dm4 when it is configured to match the hardware found in our review unit. So-so battery life and unexceptional design are now the only traits holding it back from an Editor’s Choice.
Introduction, Design, User Interface, Display And Audio Quality
We have a lot of laptop reviews here at PC Perspective. As you’d expect, we generally use the same benchmarks and use the same principles whenever reviewing a laptop.
Yet we’ve never before put all of this down in writing so that our readers could understand exactly what we’re doing. Since this is a new year with new laptops to review, now is a good time introduce new benchmarks and get rid of old ones - which also makes this a good time to share information with our readers.
The first page of any laptop review here at PC Perspective is dominated by some very subjective criteria.
Design comes first, and is also the most subjective. It refers to a laptop’s build quality, general layout and attractiveness. This is where we comment on a laptop’s aesthetics, and it’s also where we comment on a laptop’s perceived durability. We look at details like the display hinges, the chassis, the display lid and overall material quality. An ideal laptop design is attractive to the eye, pleasurable to touch, and feels sturdy in normal use.
AMD Unleashes the 990FX: Paving the way for Bulldozer
Word of the AMD 990FX chipset first came around the end of last year. Speculation was brisk as to what new features it would bring, and when exactly it would help to usher in the age of Bulldozer to the world. Most thought that it would be a shrink of the then current 890FX, and the new SB950 southbridge would have improvements to the SATA 6G controller, as well as a native USB 3.0 implementation. Today we finally get to see the reality of the situation. It is not groundbreaking, nor is it altogether exciting, but it is certainly interesting.
The 990FX and SB950 chips are identical to the previous 890FX and SB850. They are the same silicon. For those hoping for new technology will be disappointed. But all is not lost! AMD did increase the HyperTransport specification from 3.0 to 3.1, which allows the HT bus to run at 6.4 GTPS as compared to the older 5.2 GTPS. This is in place to allow the upcoming Bulldozer chips to run the northbridge portion of the chip up to 3.2 GHz, and to give the CPU more bandwidth between the different busses on the board (eg. SATA, USB 3.0, and PCI-E connections).