Intel Core i7-2600K (and friends) Sandy Bridge Processor Review
Intel Quick Video Sync Transcoding Performance
Besides the processor graphics solution that Intel has implemented on Sandy Bridge, the second major innovation is likely seen in the "Quick Sync Video" feature. And while it is a completely absurd name that doesn't in any way tell us what the technology DOES, it is pretty impressive.
We already knew that the previous / current generation of Clarkdale/Lynnfield/etc parts are capable of accelerated decode of HD video content - that is what allows for smooth Blu-ray playback t hat gets offloaded from the primary processing cores. Sandy Bridge goes a step further and implements more processing and even encoding support on the die.
And this is not simply a GPGPU-based solution by mapping encode/decode functionality on GPU cores like AMD and NVIDIA are currently doing. Instead, Intel decided to get the most efficient use out of transistors as they could and implemented this feature in as fixed function blocks. While this makes the process and software the supports it very fast, it also is VERY specific - don't expect these functional blocks to be used for any other purpose down the road.
Here we have one of the three different media applications that Intel had available to us for testing during the last month, Media Espresso. Used to convert multimedia between formats, such as to your iPhone or for your Xbox 360, this is the very definition of a consumer transcoding application. The result you see above of 0:52 seconds is how long it took the Core i5-2400 processor to convert a 450 MB video file from my Canon 7D DSLR to an iPad-ready format.
By going into the options the user can enable (actually this should be enabled by default when the software detects the Intel SNB processors) hardware encoding and decoding support.
The result? That same file only took 0:10 seconds to convert - a 5.2x speed up! That is the power of fixed function hardware when you have very specific and pre-determined goals in mind and explains why your iPhone can still record H.264 video on the fly but many our laptops cannot.
Not only do we see a big improvement in performance, the primary CPU cores are nearly completely offloaded during the transcode with hardware acceleration enabled.
CPU Usage without hardware acceleration
CPU usage with hardware acceleration
It has to be said though - this is the same functionality that AMD and NVIDIA offer for their GPUs through this exact application, among others. However, it took both sides years to get the software development to the point it is at today while Intel has three major software applications on its door, day one. That says a lot about the power of the Intel brand and what processor integration can do when software developers realize that basically all desktop/laptops will have these CPUs by the end of 2011.