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Laptops

Intel's next-gen Sandy Bridge Core CPUs explained

Remember those fancy Core CPUs that debuted last year – y'know, the Core i3, i5 and i7 range? Intel's knocked together a set of second-generation Core chips for 2011.

Remember those fancy Intel Core CPUs that debuted last year -- y'know, the Core i3, i5 and i7 range? Intel's been busy crafting a set of second-generation Core chips that will replace the ageing models powering today's laptops and desktops.

The new platform, code-named Sandy Bridge, provides several advantages over the existing 'Nehalem' Core architecture, including greater core speed, better graphics performance and improved overall efficiency.

The Sandy Bridge platform is faster, in part, thanks to its use of a 32-nanometre fabrication process that allows -- in theory -- for a greater number of more efficient transistors on a single die.

It will also be given a leg up thanks to an updated version of Intel's Turbo Boost feature. Turbo Boost 2.0, like its predecessor, dynamically overclocks CPUs to lift performance beyond base speeds, but now promises to deliver an increase in performance for longer periods of time, without endangering the health of the CPU. "Content creation is up to 42 per cent faster and gaming up to 50 per cent faster [than with previous generations]," according to Intel.

Laptops using the Sandy Bridge architecture won't have to rely on separate graphics processors from Nvidia or AMD to provide decent visuals. In anecdotal tests, our American kinfolk at CNET.com managed to run Street Fighter IV at 1,600x900 pixels and a respectable 27 frames per second using a generic, unbranded Sandy Bridge test laptop.

It's worth noting that the laptop in question was powered by a high-end quad-core Core i7-2820QM CPU, but we have high hopes that laptops with slower Core i3 or i5 Sandy Bridge chips will offer decent visual performance without the need for expensive third-party graphics cards.

Speaking of visuals, Intel's Wireless Display technology, or WiDi, has also had an upgrade. As before, it allows users to beam the video output from a laptop to a wireless external receiver box connected via HDMI to a second display. WiDi 2.0 increases the maximum resolution from 720p to 1080p, however, and eliminates the annoying lag that has restricted the technology's use as a real-time secondary display connection. It also supports video governed by digital rights management (DRM).

That last feature is significant, as it'll allow you to stream new Hollywood movies to compatible laptops and pipe that content wirelessly to an external TV.

Intel has announced movie-streaming partnerships with CinemaNow, Dixons Retail, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, Image Entertainment, Sonic Solutions and Warner Bros to bring flicks to your living room. These deals should hopefully mean digital downloads of the latest films should become available for streaming at the same time as DVD and Blu-ray releases hit the shelves.

Sandy Bridge laptops will go on sale as early as this month, although they might be difficult to spot, as they'll use the same Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 branding as previous models. Keep an eye on Crave over the coming days and weeks to see full hands-on reports of the very best (and worst) examples from CES in Las Vegas.