Intel Sandy Bridge second generation Core i processors power up

Although we’re still a couple of days away from the official announcement, Intel has lifted the NDA on its second generation of Core i processors, formerly known under the code name of Sandy Bridge. And, you might be wondering what the significant impact for the consumer is.

Well, to put it simply, it depends on what you’re using your computer for. At the same time as we’re getting a new desktop platform from Intel, we’re also getting a new notebook platform and the latter is actually the much more interesting one, so read on to see why you should care about Intel’s new processors.

We’re going to try and focus on practical reason as to why you’d be interested in making the move to the new platform here rather than going into all the technical details, in as much as it’s possible.

Let’s start with what’s new and what impact it’ll have for your average computer users. First of all, the second generation of Core i processors are faster, but that’s pretty much understood without having to spell it out. However, for the same kind of money that you’d put down on a current Intel Core i processor, you’ll get anything between a 10 and 50 per cent performance boost depending on the application, which itself is pretty impressive.

One of the key features Intel is pushing is its new HD graphics, which this time around is part of the same piece of silicon that makes up the processor. But it’s worth noting that Intel offers two different types of graphics in the desktop processors with varying performance.

The good news for notebook users is that everyone gets the faster option, as Intel decided to fit this to all of its mobile processors.

The new graphics will also allow for some casual gaming at modest screen resolution such as a typical notebook screen with a resolution of 1366x768 or below. In other words, Intel has managed to get to a stage where its graphics is good enough for most users and then some.

Intel’s new HD graphics also adds support for better Blu-ray playback and more importantly, at least to some, Blu-ray 3D and 3D display support on HDMI 1.4 equipped systems.

Intel has also added a range of features that are meant to improve the quality of the video that’s being played back as well as support for hardware decoding of additional video codecs.

The chip giant has also added support for Adobe Flash acceleration which should allow for smoother playback of online video, especially at high resolution.

Another new and very useful part of Intel’s new HD graphics is what the company calls Quick Sync Technology. This allows you to use the Intel HD graphics when you’re encoding or transcoding video and the performance increase is nothing short of amazing. Even using the fastest of the new desktop processors, it takes half the time or less processing the same piece of video using Quick Sync Technology and the quality is generally better than that of competing solutions using a discrete graphics card.

You do have to use software that supports it, but there are already several applications available that supports Quick Sync Technology and more are set to come.

On the notebook side of things Intel’s is also adding some additional technology, such as an upgraded version of its Wireless Display technology – of WiDi for short – which adds support for resolutions up to 1080p, also known as Full HD.

However, this requires the purchase of a receiver on the TV end that converts the wireless signal into an HDMI signal and displays the picture and sound on your TV. Intel has also added support for what it calls My WiFi technology which is an optional feature that allows you to directly connect up to eight Wi-Fi devices via a custom piece of software.

This is limited to speeds of up to 54Mbits and a range of about 100m according to Intel and it’s pretty much a Wi-Fi alternative to Bluetooth. On a technical note this appears to be Intel’s version of Wi-Fi Direct which is a new standard that offers similar functionality.

For business users Intel have upgraded its Anti-Theft technology, although once again this is an optional feature on notebooks and it’ll depend on the notebook manufacturer if this feature is implemented or not. This is hardware based technology, but the good news is that it’s also non-destructive which means that the notebook can be brought back to life if recovered.

While on the subject of some slightly more techy features, Intel has also added four new options to its range of Wi-Fi cards and two of the new models now supports Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi.

There are also several more technical features that have been added to the processor and the one Intel is pushing as something set to increase the performance of a wide range of computationally complex applications is called AVX – or Advanced Vector Extensions if you like.

This is useful for example when you’re doing image stitching as a consumer and it has also been implemented in Cakewalk’s Sonar music creation software.

As for how much of an impact this will have in your everyday computer usage is not so obvious at the moment and it will really depend on the software companies and their support of it.

Some of the best news about the second generation of Core i processors is that Intel has decided to keep the pricing in line with its current processor models, so no big price hikes are expected on the new models outside of what’s expected from new product launch.

It’s hard to define if upgrading a current Core i based system is going to be worthwhile, but there’s plenty of new features on offer and some of them are more appealing than others.

On the notebook side there’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing some big improvements in performance and this is where it makes a lot more sense making the move if you’re about to splash out on a new model this year.

The launch of Intel’s second generation of Core i processors will take place at CES this week, so make sure you come back and check out our coverage from the show for the latest product news.