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Processors: What to Expect From CPUs in 2012

Expect more speed and less power consumption in next year's processors

By Nate Ralph, PC World
December 28, 2011 09:55 AM ET

PC World - As the brains of most every modern computing gadget, the central processing unit or CPU is an indispensable part of every desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet. The processor crunches the numbers and assigns the tasks, and it's one of the chief pieces of hardware that determine how thick your laptop is or how long your phones battery will last.

Read all of Network World's predictions for 2012

Every year, these slabs of silicon get smaller, stronger, and more energy-efficient. Thats good news for gadget mavens, as devices become faster, lighter, and generally more impressive as a result. Next year will be no exception. In this article, Ill look at whats expected from Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. Its a bit too soon to tell how things will shake out--expect big announcements from the CES tech trade show in January--but Ill try to fill in some of the blanks.

Crossing the Sandy Bridge

In the desktop and laptop markets, there are two major players: Intel and AMD. Of the two, Intel has gained more traction this year, bringing a number of powerful, popular components to market--with the promise of much more to come in the next year.

Intel operates on what it calls a tick-tock cycle. With every "tick," Intel introduces a new manufacturing process. In 2010, Intels Clarkdale desktop processors reduced the companys Nehalem microarchitecture to 32 nanometers, delivering improved performance and energy savings. With every "tock," Intel introduces a new microarchitecture. In 2011, we got Sandy Bridge CPUs, which deliver superior performance to their Clarkdale predecessors while cutting power costs and improving the integrated graphics performance.

Well see the next tick in 2012, when Intel shrinks the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture down to the 22-nanometer process. The resulting new CPUs, code-named Ivy Bridge, promise even better power savings and performance, much as the last two processor generations did.

Smaller Is Better

Most of the information we have about Ivy Bridge comes from the Intel Developers Forum held earlier this year, plus the occasional leaked PowerPoint presentation. Of primary importance is Intels die shrink, which moves from the 32-nanometer process to the 22-nanometer process. Switching to a smaller die size allows processor manufacturers to create chips that draw less energy.

Earlier this year Intel unveiled the 3D tri-gate transistor technology that it has implemented to make the transition to the 22-nanometer process. The new transistors are smaller, faster, and more power-efficient, and will be key to the performance gains that Intel claims well see with Ivy Bridge.

But what does all of that mean for you? Simple: An Ivy Bridge CPU will supply performance similar to that of a Sandy Bridge CPU while consuming less power, and it will offer greater performance while consuming the same amount of power. That means you'll see laptops that provide better battery life without sacrificing speed, as well as faster desktops that are easier on your utility budget.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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