CES: Intel debuts 2nd-gen Sandy Bridge Core i-series CPUs

One the eve of the 2011 CES show, Intel has officially unveiled the details about its new line of desktop and laptop CPUs.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
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Dan Ackerman
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LAS VEGAS--On the eve of the 2011 CES show, Intel has officially unveiled the details about its new line of desktop and laptop CPUs. Code-named Sandy Bridge, these chips will in actuality carry the same Core i3/i5/i7 naming as the 2010 generation of Intel processors.

The basics of the Sandy Bridge platform have been known for some time, and a few PCs with the new chips have even leaked onto the market early.

According to Intel, highlights of the second-generation Core processors, built around a new 32nm microarchitecture, include more energy-efficient performance and improved 3D and graphics performance. The latest version of Intel's Turbo Boost technology, called Turbo Boost 2.0, lets each core boost performance past its base clock speed as needed for dynamic workloads, while balancing the thermal headroom to avoid overheating. Intel claims that with this new generation of CPUs, "content creation is up to 42 percent faster and gaming up to 50 percent faster" than with previous generations. (For more on how these chips will be used, see this companion report.)

Probably the most interesting new feature is the completely revamped Intel HD graphics system. Previously, the integrated graphics found in most laptops and desktops weren't able to handle even basic 3D games at reasonable performance levels.

For playing high-end games at higher resolutions, we're not sure the era of the dedicated video card is behind us, but in some anecdotal use with a generic Sandy Bridge test laptop, the integrated Intel HD graphics were usable, running Street Fighter IV at 1,600x900 at about 27 frames per second. Keep in mind, however, that this was with a high-end quad-core i7-2820QM CPU. Still, for playing World of Warcraft on your basic integrated graphics laptop, it should more than do the job.

Also set for an upgrade is Intel's Wireless Display technology. Currently built into a handful of laptops, WiDi, as it's sometimes called, allows one to beam the video output from a laptop to a $99 Netgear receiver box, which in turn connects via HDMI to any TV or other display.

The original version of Wireless Display, one of our Best of CES picks for 2010, had significant limitations. Those included a noticeable delay in the signal, which made it useless as a real-time PC secondary monitor, instead being good mainly for video playback or slideshows. It would also not play back protected content, such as DVD or Blu-ray video.

The new Sandy Bridge version of Wireless Display ups the supported resolution from 720p to 1080p, and protected content will be supported alongside a new service called Intel Insider, which acts as a secure path for digital content (and supports HDCP 2). Note that these new features will only be available on Wireless Display-enabled laptops that have Intel's new second-generation Core CPUs. Intel plans to reveal more information about Intel Insider during CES 2011.

Here is a complete list of the new Intel laptop CPUs (stay tuned for more on the desktop side of Intel's pre-CES announcements). Only a handful of the quad-core versions will be available in January, with dual-core versions following later in 2011.

Intel Core i7

  • Extreme Edition i7-2920XM
  • i7-2820QM
  • i7-2720QM
  • i7-2630QM, 2635QM
  • i7-2620M
  • i7-2649M
  • i7-2629M (LV)
  • i7-2657M
  • i7-2617M (ULV)

Intel Core i5

  • i5-2540M
  • i5-2520M,
  • i5-2410M,
  • i5-2537M (ULV)

Intel Core i3

  • i3-2310M