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Intel's Ivy Bridge chip expected at the end of April

Chip giant's Ivy Bridge is due at by the end this month, and a flood of new laptops and desktops will ensue.

New MacBooks are due in the coming months with Ivy Bridge chips.
New MacBooks are due in the coming months with Ivy Bridge chips.

Intel is expected to launch its latest and greatest processor, Ivy Bridge, during the last week of April, a source tells CNET. This will be followed by a crush of new product announcements, laptops, and desktops alike.

The announcement is expected the week of April 23 or soon thereafter.

Ivy Bridge will be the biggest statement by Intel to date on the importance of graphics. Not unlike -- broadly speaking -- the emphasis Apple is placing on graphics in the new A5X chip powering the third-generation iPad.

"Graphics are the part where you're going to see the most sizable gains [and] on the CPU [central processing unit] you're going to see incremental benefits," said an industry source familiar with Intel's rollout plans. Traditionally, Intel's focus has principally been on boosting the performance of the CPU.

Preliminary benchmarks, demonstrating the chip's graphics prowess compared to the current Sandy Bridge processor, back this up.

Though the first Ivy Bridge announcement will come this month, rollouts are expected to be staggered. As Intel has done in the past, quad-core chips appear first followed later by the most power-efficient processors that go into ultrabooks and the MacBook Air.

Responding to reports about delays earlier in the year, Intel said mobile products may launch a few weeks later than originally planned.

Rumors have Apple bringing out a thinner 15-inch MacBook model in the coming months as well as 13-inch MacBooks. Those systems will likely tap Intel's more power-efficient Ivy Bridge chips.

And Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sony, Toshiba, Acer, and Asus will update and/or bring out new systems. These will run the gamut of laptop designs, but more systems are expected to be thin. Even many higher performance systems are expected to have a slimmer chassis. Those laptops typically use a separate graphics chip from suppliers such as Nvidia.

Ivy Bridge highlights:

  • Intel's 3D transistor tech: Ivy Bridge is a 22-nanometer chip (Sandy Bridge is 32nm) and will be the first to use Intel's 3D transistor technology. Suffice to say, it's necessary to sustain Moore's Law--doubling the number of transistors on a silicon device every two years. As device dimensions become prohibitively small, cramming in transistors in the traditional two-dimensional fashion becomes impossible. So, 3D or vertical transistors become necessary.
  • USB 3.0: Built into Ivy Bridge silicon--the first time Intel is doing this. So USB 3.0 should become universal. Market researcher In-Stat has forecast that 400 million USB 3.0-enabled devices will ship in 2012.
  • Graphics/multimedia: This is the feature Intel has allocated most of the additional chip real estate to (Intel is expected to call the graphics component the HD 4000.) Gains over the current Sandy Bridge chip on some graphics benchmarks are significant.
(See list of Ivy Bridge models at CPU World.)