Intel: ULV is the new ‘standard’ notebook processor; EliteBook redesign anyone?!

Intel Ivy Bridge in 2012

Well, this is big news: Tech/business website Ars Technica is reporting Intel’s big shots announcement at a San Francisco conference to move ‘standard’ laptop processors to have the TDP’s of current ultra-low voltage (processors), between 10 to 15W TDP. Traditionally, standard processors in laptops had a TDP of 35W while ultra-low voltage models (the stuff you see in things like the TouchSmart tm2, various Asus ultra-thin models, and other thin-and-light laptops) had TDP’s of 17W… so lowering the new TDP of ‘standard’ processors to 10-15W would mean very power-efficient processors that sip battery life. Considering Intel’s plans for their 2012 Ivy Bridge processors, I don’t doubt this as a possibility at all.

So while we’re all still awaiting for an official announcement from Intel, that they will utilize this new standard of theirs in Ivy Bridge processors, let’s take a look at what these new more energy-efficient chips would mean in our notebooks:

  • Thin and light laptops for all! This is great news for everyone! Who doesn’t want a slimmer laptop that performs the same or better than their current brick of a laptop?
  • The sky is NOT the limit. We will likely see a great and sudden barrage of waif-thin laptops that measure an inch or less in thickness but they’ll likely stay that way until someone figures out how to make batteries, graphics cards, connectivity ports, and displays super-thin… and only then, we may see laptops slimmer than our smartphones.
  • 1.8 inch disks go mainstream? For years, we’ve seen 1.8 inch hard disks and solid state drives in the market catering to the niche of ultra-portable notebooks, but the sad part is they never took off: 2.5 inch disks are still the staple of a big majority of laptops these days. In fact, some may even speculate 1.8 inch drives are going the way of the dodo because how many laptops announced in the past year use 1.8 inch disks (other than the recently announced EliteBook 2760p convertible tablet?). I digress but at the rate laptops could potentially slim down a bunch with Intel’s new plans, I can see 1.8 inch drives suddenly being adopted on a widespread basis to accommodate the new thinness of new notebooks (at 5 to 6 mm in height, 1.8 inch drives are almost half the thickness of 2.5 inch drives)
  • Fanless designs. Lower TDP, especially the ‘cut in half’ Intel has planned,  -typically- means that power consumption and heat output of a processor will be drastically reduced. As a user of an EliteBook 2530p with a low-voltage (and self undervolted) Core2Duo processor, I can attest to the fact that the fan rarely comes on when I’m out and about with the laptop… it only comes on when I’m running a bunch of heavy programs on my 2048 x 1536 resolution Dell monitor at home, and even then processor temperature never exceeds 65 degrees Celcius. Such laptops need only a tiny fan or maybe not one at all, which can save a lot of space in terms of internal surface area layout
  • Single RAM slots. Traditionally notebooks have come with two RAM slots so we could have plenty of memory to run programs… if you’ve used something like Windows Vista before, you’d understand perfectly! However, considering 4 GB RAM sticks for laptops are getting more affordable nowadays, 8 GB sticks being introduced (but still prohibitively expensive) and the fact most sub-15 inch notebook users will probably not be crunching hundreds of photos while playing Crysis 2 while having six dozen browser tabs open at the same time (so majority won’t really need more than 4 gigs of memory anyway), there’s a high chance we’ll see the ‘two RAM slots’ norm in notebooks being trimmed down to one… in consumer models, at least. A cut down in components that take up space is a must anyway if one were to make slimmer laptops.
  • String two together? With a really efficient processor inside, we might see the next big (literally) Mobile Workstation and 17 inch models in general come up with battery life numbers that rival Apple’s 17 inch MacBook Pro, or at least last more than 2 hours before having us to scurry around looking for a power outlet. But people who usually buy these things normally use them as desktop replacements and 17 inches of laptop is really too much to venture outside the home/office for a full day anyway, so battery life and power consumption isn’t really a big dealbreaker anyway. Consequently, there is a small chance some PC maker out there who will realize this, perhaps HP, maybe Dell, and string two of these chips together like we see in desktops… fingers crossed for the day we can have dual quad-core processors in our 17 inch laptops!

Alright, and once again, we have the magical question! Should Intel decide to make low voltages the new standard starting from Ivy Bridge next year, will we see a drastic redesign in all laptops? Or will manufacturers just take the lazy route and stuff these chips into existing shells and cases for most part? I’m not sure what HP will make of this either, with their recently redesigned EliteBook range… with processors that encourage slimmer laptops, will we see HP foregoing their “redesign every two refresh cycles” and retool the design of their EliteBooks? Will we see the Envy 13 reintroduced in a much sleeker form with Ivy Bridge next year? Or perhaps the Envy 11 to fight the 11 inch MacBook Air and offerings from Asus and Lenovo? Exciting times lay ahead of us indeed!

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2 Comments

  1. curious-character May 20, 2011 Reply

    I don’t know too much about CPU design, but I wonder if this move is in part related to the challenges heat poses to very small transistors. Of course they market this as a move towards smaller laptops, but perhaps they have no choice if they want to continue cramming more transistors into the chips.

  2. Andrew May 23, 2011 Reply

    The 2760p uses a 7mm 2.5″ hard disk.

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