Ivy Bridge – The Long Wait is Over


Since 1971, Moore’s Law (adapted) suggested that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every 18 months to 2 years.  Many observers paraphrased this as the computer speed doubling, though this is not quite accurate.  Right around the turn of the century, Chipmakers Intel and AMD ran into a snag, where they were unable to increase the speed of the processors outright because of heating issues they simply could not circumvent due to physics.  I’m sure some engineer somewhere looked at another and said  “Well, we just hit the ceiling.  What do we do now?”

So, for the past decade, CPU speeds have hovered around 3 Ghz, give or take. Despite the speed constraints, the number of transistors continued to increase dramatically as the chip makers continued to utilize smaller and smaller manufacturing processes, building multiple cores and deeper pipe-lining.   This enabled modern computers to become multi-tasking powerhouses, able to run multiple heavy duty applications at the same time.   So in effect, computers were still able to increase their data output, and Moore’s Law, at least perceptively, was saved; when in reality it never stopped.

Then, in 2002, Intel’s Director of Components Research, Dr. Gerald Marcyk, published a paper on a new type of transistor Architecture, call the Tri-gate Transistor, or 3D Transistor.  Then … nothing.  For 10 years Intel continued developing this new technology, all the while pacifying computer enthusiasts by increasing the quality of on-board peripherals, including integrated NICs, HD graphics,  5.1 sound, and USB.

Well, the wait is finally over, and 3D Transistors have been included in Intel’s newest line of processors, code name Ivy Bridge, using the new 22 nm process. These new processors are technically backwards compatible with the previous generation of processors, code name Sandy Bridge, but will likely require a firmware update from your BIOS manufacturer.  If you haven’t heard about this new evolution in transistor design, I urge you to watch this short Youtube Video as Intel’s Mark Bhar Explains Tri-Gate Transistors.   Though I have to warn you, I had to watch this video a couple of times because I completely lost it when he introduced the 3D chip and the music switched to 70’s style.  I mean, c’mon Intel.  If Disney can put Daft Punk into a movie, surely you can afford The Chemical Brothers.   Even just one of them.  Chemical Brother #2.  Enjoy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO7gElMdO6U[/youtube]

So… In reality, Intel was ready to go with this new technology 6 months ago, but allowed time for existing stocks to be depleted by manufactures, while Intel shored up and streamlined the manufacturing process.  A small batch of Ivy Bridge processors were sent to OEMs so they could begin to develop their products.   And the real push begins now.


Beginning August 2012, manufacturers will be announcing their new lineups of systems based on Ivy Bridge, and we can expect to be inundated by new product just in time for the 2012 Holiday season.

Okay – you may be saying – why should I care?  I just bought all these new phones and computers.   Is it really better?  A little bit. And by a little bit, I mean whoa my goodness yes.   Not only do we have all the performance enhancements that come with the implementation of the 3D Transistor,  this new chip features:

  • deeper pipe-lining
  • an adaptive cache prefetcher
  • dynamically partitioned Hyper-Threading
  • virtualization of move operations
  • added security
  • an on-chip digital random number generator
  • numerous power saving features
  • and more.  (Read Tech Report’s Review)

But Intel realized that graphics architecture technology advances quickly, and they couldn’t wait for the tock to introduce a graphics architecture overhaul. Non-hardcore gamers can rejoice with on-board Direct X11 support. I’m not saying that on-board graphics will ever really compete with a dedicated graphics card; but all you cube warriors will be able to load and run some of the latest games if your system is packing an Ivy Bridge processor, without having to surreptitiously upgrade your office computer with a graphics card.

<Yes, boss, MS Excel is looking rather nice today.>

Don’t believe that everything is roses with this chip. Overclockers putting an Ivy Bridge system through testing last April revealed hotter temperatures compared to Sandy Bridge chips. It was discovered that using an aftermarket performance thermal paste resulted in significant cooling in the range of 18 to 23%.  Hopefully Intel has resolved that issue. Generally, you shouldn’t run into any heating issues if you are not overclocking your processor. I would still recommend using a laptop cooler with any laptop, past or present.  But the real boon from Ivy Bridge is going to be seen in laptops and other mobile devices. An Ivy Bridge processor can match a Sandy Bridge processor in data processing power with only half the power consumption, or with the same power consumption, boasts up to a 37% improvement in performance. Just imagine… the same performance, but double the expected battery life?  Or – more performance. You decide. At last!  Freedom from the cord.


Intel is also going to begin using this 22 nm process and 3D Transistor technology in its Atom processors, commonly found in smartphones and tablet devices.  Boom – smart phone battery life doubled.   The process is getting so small now we can realistically begin considering using the desktop processors in mobile devices.   Imagine your smartphone or tablet will the full power of modern day desktop machines.

Well, we get to wait a bit more before the mobile devices start incorporating 3D Transistors, but the wait for Desktops and Laptops is over.   Just zip on over to your favorite PC manufacturer, and look for 3rd Gen Intel® Core™ processors.   Alas, I still get to wait for the Razer™ Blade to get the 3rd Gen upgrade.

About the Author

Jason Clement

After a 6 year stint with the U.S. Army as a Tactical Linguist, Jason worked as an IT Professional with DEC (Digital Equipment Corp), on a contract with both Time Warner and Oceanic Cable as they implemented the first publicly available broadband service, often troubleshooting network issues node-by-node back to the Central Office. After the acquisition of DEC by Compaq Jason began a long career working tech support for companies such as Dell, CompUSA, Perot Systems, and Ignite Technologies while freelancing for several law firms. While each position presented its own technical challenges and unique experiences. While Jason has worked in every facet of customer facing IT support from call centers to in-home support he looks back fondly on his days at DEC, where a 'can do' attitude was the norm.

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