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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Taking Ultrabooks to the Next Level

Intel’s Ultrabooks initiative started as a way to move the notebook world towards a more compact, portable and affordable platform. Prior to Ultrabooks, Windows-based laptops were typically large, heavy devices which had problems competing with Apple’s lineup from a “wow factor” perspective. There were some thin and light products out there –Sony’s Vaio lineup springs to mind- but they were typically expensive and only appealed to buyers with a good chunk of disposable income. But that wasn’t their only problem. As the notebook market moved towards a mainstream product space, people started looking for portability to suit their on-the-good mentality and longer battery life to ensure fully mobile data access, even if that meant sacrificing a bit of performance.

The idea behind the first Sandy Bridge based Ultrabooks was to deliver exactly what people were looking for: an ultra portable notebook that could last five or more hours off of a single charge coupled with a sub-$1200 price point. To achieve this, Intel set forth a number of requirements and vendors answered the call, but with mixed results.

One of the main issues with the first batch of Ultrabooks was the Huron River platform, which consisted of low performance Low Voltage Sandy Bridge processors. While sufficient for everyday tasks, they lagged behind in other areas.

With the introduction of the Ivy Bridge-based Chief River platform, Intel is looking to take Ultrabooks to the next level and make them appealing to a much wider market. The goal here is to add more features, retain this niche’s original slim dimensions and further enhance battery life without performance acting like a sacrificial lamb. But Ivy Bridge is only the first step in this gradual progression; 2013 will bring the Shark Bay platform which is based upon the new Haswell microarchitecture and should usher in a new area for mobile computing.

The baseline specifications of these new Ivy Bridge-based Ultrabooks may have remained the same but Intel has added a number of new requirements that manufacturers need to follow before their products can be marketed as “Ultrabooks”. This time around, system storage speeds of 80MB/s and a minimum capacity of 16GB are necessary while at least one USB 3.0 port is now an integral part of the specification.

Other than that, not much has changed other than a recommendation to integrate Intel’s suite of security tools and the possibility of lasting more than eight hours on a single charge. We’re guessing eight hours of actual unplugged usage won’t happen until Haswell is released and for the time being, most Ultrabooks will still struggle to reach the baseline five hours. Remember, Intel’s figures are based upon MobileMark, a program that has been widely panned for its erroneous battery life testing procedures and actual battery life will be substantially less when an Ultrabook is used in real world scenarios.

Many end users perceive their system’s effectiveness through relatively simplified terms: if the system boots up and loads programs quickly, it will meet three quarters of their performance needs. Let’s face it; the last thing you want is to wait around while your notebook gobbles up battery power while reloading applications.

In order to meet these expectations, Intel has implemented a number of features within their Ultrabook platform. The first of these is the notebook’s ability to be usable within six seconds of waking up from a hibernating state. They’ve also added Smart Response Technology which gives OEMs the option of including a low capacity SSD alongside a larger spindle-based drive. SRT automatically caches your most used startup, application and document items on the faster SSD which allows for quicker load times. However, we doubt most of these slim and light notebooks will actually have the space for an SSD and a traditional hard drive.

Finally, we should mention Intel’s Smart Connect Technology since it can be a huge timesaver since it downloads emails, social network notifications and other items when the system isn’t being used. This will likely come in handy when your notebook is plugged in but since SCT wakes the system up from hibernation to perform its tasks, running this feature on battery power isn’t a great idea.

Intel’s security features aren’t prerequisites on all Ultrabooks but some OEMs have begun including them nonetheless. Identity Protection Technology allows for a unique security tag to be added to a notebook. Supporting websites will then ask for their usual login information followed by a request that the computer’s unique tag also be entered. This adds a second level of security to online purchases and could protect end users against account hijacking. You can read more about it HERE.

The Anti Theft Technology can perform a number of tasks if your notebook or Ultrabook is ever lost or stolen. It can act like a LoJack system which locates your device but other features like the ability to disable the system and advanced data encryption services are also included. More importantly, it also allows for a remote data shredding “poison pill” to be sent out over a 3G network anywhere in the world. You can read more about Intel’s solution HERE

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