Intel i7-3720QM Review; Ivy Bridge Goes Mobile

Author: SKYMTL
Date: April 22, 2012
Product Name: i7-3720QM
Warranty: 3 Years
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Meet the Ivy Bridge Mobile Processors and Platform

For the time being, Intel is only announcing a small portion of their Ivy Bridge-based mobile processors, most of which focus upon the performance and up-market mainstream markets. For the time being at least, the Sandy Bridge 2xxx-series will continue to be a part of Intelís mainstream, entry level and ultra low voltage lineups but over the next few weeks and months, expect these to be replaced with a full range of Ivy Bridge-centric parts. Weíll be sure to cover those as they come out.

With the i5 and i3 parts on the backburner, we can narrow our focus upon the i7 product stack, which is broken into two distinct groups: the retail processors and those available only to OEMs. The only differentiating factor here is that companies like Dell, Lenovo, ASUS and others have access to the full stable of retail and OEM-centric parts while regular customers like you and I will only be able to buy the retail chips over the counter.

Letís start things off with the retail processors. At the top of the heap we have the i7 3920XM, an Extreme Edition product that boasts a clock speed that ensures flagship status while still retaining a built-in GPU in case your system comes with a switchable graphics option. Considering its cost and power consumption, we wonít see any of these outside of ultra high end boutique notebook systems from the likes of Alienware, Maingear and Falcon Northwest.

Two more i7 quad core, eight thread processors Ėthe 3720QM and 3820QM- round out the retail Ivy Bridge lineup. While the 3820QMís specifications more closely reflect those of its Extreme Edition sibling, weíre told the 3720QM will make an appearance in quite a few gaming-oriented notebooks. Other than a slight 100MHz difference in clock speeds, the processors are nearly identical other than the 3820QMís 8MB of L3 cache.

The OEM-only lineup consists of slightly lower end parts since the retail chips are mostly used for upgrade purposes. Their naming schemes on the other hand are a bit confusing. The i7 3615QM and 3610QM are essentially the same chip built for different package applications but have a 100MHz difference in the graphics controllerís maximum frequency. Rounding out this section is the 3612QM, a CPU that has a higher model number than the 3610QM

As with the Sandy Bridge lineup, this initial influx of Ivy Bridge chips are all 4 core, eight thread variants but there will likely be higher clocked or low voltage dual core chips added at a later point in order to round out the i7 lineup. In addition, every processor thus far includes the HD 4000 graphics controller with its 16 Execution units and compatibility with DDR3 1600MHz memory.

When placed directly alongside a previous generation i7 processor, it is quite evident that Ivy Bridge brings a number of benefits to the table. Even though Intel is using their latest 22nm manufacturing process, their priority wasnít to lower power consumption while maintaining the performance status quo.

There are some additional power saving features built into the Ivy Bridge processors but as you can see above, some major improvements were made. Intelís new i7 3720QM processor is a perfect example of this strategy. Despite holding a 300-400MHz CPU frequency advantage and incorporating an additional four GPU Execution Units, it maintains the same 45W TDP as the outgoing 2720QM. It also maintains the 2720QMís original price point of $378.

In order to form the new Maho Bay platform, Intelís mobile Ivy Bridge processors will be paired up with a compatible Panther Point motherboard. This combination brings the advantages of a faster, more efficient processor architecture and additional graphics capabilities and ties them into a chipset that has plenty of connectivity options, including support for Intelís ultra fast ThunderBolt technology. Intel has also added five new Centrino Advanced Wireless-N options, giving OEMs the possibility of including a broader suite of connectivity options with their notebooks.

In the image above, all of the platformís new features are listed and while we would love to go through each individually, a few need more explanation while others will be covered on upcoming pages. However, as should be evident by now, an Ivy Bridge processor and an accompanying 7-series motherboard will bring a broad feature set to the table and provide a user friendly environment for notebook users.

Speaking of harmony between the processors and the rest of the mobile environment, Intel has a number of motherboard options for this somewhat broad market. While the Ivy Bridge mobile CPUs feature native support for PCI-E 3.0, Quick Sync Video and various other technologies, it is the chipset / platform controller hub which may arguably bring the most to this relationship. It brings to the table SATA 6Gbps, triple display outputs, Intel Smart Response for quick boot times, and (finally) includes native support for USB 3.0. This addition of native USB 3.0 capabilities is particularly important since it reduces the mobile platformís dependency upon power hungry third party controllers.

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