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Sandy Bridge Mobile Performance Review

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Asus
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Enter Sandy Bridge

In desktops, concerns such as power efficiency are important, but usually aren’t potential deal-breakers. In laptops, the processor has a significant impact on the design of the laptop. There is a broad spectrum of performance, power efficiency and thermal efficiency, and these variables make the difference between a 1” thick ultraportable and a bulky 1.5” thick desktop replacement.

Desktop processors tend to catch the majority of the glory when new processor architectures debut. AMD’s recent decision to release Bobcat as its first APU was quite unusual; in most cases, laptops have to wait for new processor technology to filter down.  As a result, the performance story of laptop parts is often second-fiddle to that of its desktop cousins.

That’s a shame, really, because laptop processors are in many ways more interesting to examine. The variety of product on the laptop market is staggering. The performance gap between an Intel Atom and an Intel Core i7-QM quad-core is staggering – it’s hard to believe that they’re both the same type of product and are capable of running the same basic programs. 

The laptop space is also more rigorous than that of desktops. In desktops, concerns such as power efficiency are important, but usually aren’t potential deal-breakers. In laptops, the processor has a significant impact on the design of the laptop. There is a broad spectrum of performance, power efficiency and thermal efficiency, and these variables make the difference between a 1” thick ultraportable and a bulky 1.5” thick desktop replacement.

We already know from the desktop parts that Sandy Bridge is kind of a big deal. The new Intel processors absolutely destroyed their former cohorts and all competition from AMD in our earlier Sandy Bridge review.

AMD has been lagging in the mobile space for some time; their current mid-range and high-end laptop parts have difficulty competing with Core 2 based mobile processors from Intel, nevermind the more recent Core i3/i5/i7 line. Given this, the question isn’t “Can Sandy Bridge beat the competition” but rather “how badly will Sandy Bridge beat the previous generation of Intel processors?”

The recent SATA bug has delayed Sandy Bridge mobile debut, but not before we had the chance to benchmark the performance of Intel’s latest and greatest in the form of a Core i7-2630QM. The table below unveils the juicy specifications.

There are two numbers that stick out here. The first is the clock speed that, at 2 GHz base and 2.9 GHz maximum Turbo, is quite high for a mobile quad-core part. The previous generation of Core i7-QM processors topped out at 1.86 GHz, excluding the Extreme Edition parts, but this Intel Core i7-2630QM is actually the entry level Sandy Bridge mobile quad-core. The fastest currently listed on Intel’s site is the Core i7-2820QM, which has a base clock speed of 2.3 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost of 3.4 GHz.

Part of the reason behind moving the clock speeds north is likely the architecture, but the other part of the equation is the other number that sticks out; the production process, which is now down to 32 nm lithography. Intel’s previous Core i7-QM processors were manufactured on the older 45nm process. Improving manufacturing processes usually allow for improved power efficiency, which in turn results in less heat generated for a processor at any given speed.

Unfortunately, this review does come with a caveat; the processor we benchmarked was placed into a MSI GT680R, which although a fine laptop, had the new Intel IGP disabled. This removed that exciting technology from the equation. Instead, Nvidia 460M graphics provided the juice.

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