Special Intel 'Ivy Bridge' chips to enable new laptops, tablets

At CES, chip giant will discuss limited edition versions of its 3rd Generation Core processors that are Intel's most power efficient to date. Select ultrabooks and tablets from some vendors are expected.

Very power efficient Core processors can enable more designs like Acer's 0.48-inch thick Aspire S7 touch-screen ultrabook.
Very power efficient Core processors can enable more designs like Acer's 0.48-inch thick Aspire S7 touch-screen ultrabook. Brooke Crothers

Intel will talk more about limited-run versions of its Ivy Bridge processor next week at the Consumer Electronics Show. Those chips are expected to be used by select laptop and tablet vendors, as the chipmaker tries to take on rivals with increasingly power-efficient Core series silicon.

"Limited SKUs" of Intel's 3rd Generation processor, aka Ivy Bridge, will have a power rating below 10 watts, allowing the processor to throttle down to a sub-10-watt power envelope, an Intel spokesperson told CNET. This "will enable new ultrabook designs" and the chip is "coming very soon," he added.

That power-efficiency rating is an important yardstick because Intel's mainstream Core series processors currently have ratings no lower than 17 watts -- those versions are used in ultrabooks and Apple's MacBook Air laptops today. And anything below 10 watts from Intel has historically been limited to its lower-performance Atom chips used in tablets and smartphones.

Typically, the lower the power rating, the better the battery life and the thinner the device's design can be.

Intel did not say how far below 10 watts these special "Y" series Ivy Bridge processors will go, though Intel vice president Kirk Skaugen is expected to talk about the processors at CES.

These Ivy Bridge chips were first mentioned at Intel's annual developer conference last year but it wasn't clear at that time if Intel and its partners would go forward with designs. But it appears that some PC vendors will have select models in the coming months, according to Intel.

"The designs wins that are out there include ultrabooks, convertibles, and tablets," the Intel spokesperson said.

Low-power Ivy Bridge and Haswell chips could be used in high-performance tablets. Currently, vendors like HP use Atom chips only for Intel-based tablets.
Low-power Ivy Bridge and Haswell chips could be used in high-performance tablets. Currently, vendors like HP use Atom chips only for Intel-based tablets. Hewlett-Packard

Skaugen will also talk about the future Haswell processor -- due later in the year. Y versions of that chip are expected to offer even better power efficiency than the low-power Ivy Bridge chips.

And the Intel spokesperson was careful to point out that he doesn't expect an explosion of new designs based on the special low-power Ivy Bridge chip as "we are right on the cusp of Haswell."

Intel is more focused than ever on making its mainstream Core chips as power efficient as possible as rivals that supply chips based on the power-sipping ARM design crank up performance.

Samsung, for example, is now offering a quad-core ARM design for phones, and Apple continues to get better at designing higher performance A series chips for its iPhone and iPad.

To date, Intel's answer to ARM has been the Atom line of processors, but the newest versions have been criticized for their lackluster performance when running more-demanding applications in Windows 8.

Atom chips will move to an entirely new design later this year that is expected to get them closer to Intel's mainstream processors in performance.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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