The new graphics processor within the Sandy Bridge is designed to deliver enhanced visuals in areas where users need them most in their daily computing usage. These include HD videos, 3D videos, mainstream 3D gaming, multi-tasking and online socializing, and multimedia. Thus, the graphics processor will boost graphics performance in most applications and not just 3D gaming. In fact, it's not intended for advance 3D graphics since that would still require the presence of a dedicated discrete graphics processing unit (GPU). But for the masses and general consumers who play the occasional Facebook flash game or the social media enthusiast who encodes homemade videos for Youtube, the integrated graphics core in Sandy Bridge is more than adequate.
In a demonstration during the keynote, Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group showed how one can play the popular Starcraft II : Wings of Liberty game with visual effects looking essentially the same as another laptop configured with a discrete graphics card. Besides having the ability to render 3D graphics with no dropped frames, the demo also showed how it had enough processing capabilities to record the gameplay in full high-definition video which was later shared with friends on Youtube.
The multi-tasking capabilities of the graphics processor is made possible by the highly parallel flexible architecture that is optimized for the next generation of media workloads. Featuring the next generation execution unit, the graphics core in Sandy Bridge is capable of delivering two times the throughput per execution unit as compared with the previous generation. The execution units also feature a larger register file for increased parallelism and a more efficient complex shader execution.
All the dedicated accelerators and native implementation of mainstream codecs for video rendering also allows the graphics processor to improve its HD media encode and decode performance. As a result, power consumption is lowered and battery performance improved.
Power management at the die level is also improved with Intel's next generation turbo boost technology. The processor cores and graphics now enjoy greater frequency boost in Sandy Bridge as compared to the previous generation. The greater turbo headroom is capable of adding more speed bins to the processor cores above its rated TDP, even when all four cores are utilized at the same time. Now that the graphics processor is also integrated into the same die, power management is better controlled at the hardware level, giving the user all the performance that is required when it's needed.
Finally, floating point intensive applications will enjoy greater performance with the added Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) instruction set. AVX delivers a new 256-bit instruction set that greatly benefits applications like digital photo editing and content creation. Developers can also take advantage of these instructions to accelerate motion and facial recognition tracking as well as computational simulation and analysis.
Sandy Bridge will be available in low power performance-optimized 65W solutions as well as versions at 45W and 35W using a new low-profile fan heat sink solution. Intel expects Sandy Bridge to help users build smaller and more stylish desktop systems such as thin mini-ITX based desktop systems as well as all-in-one desktops.