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Quick Sync Video & Graphics Performance

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You have to love Intel (caveat: maybe not if you're AMD). While every other company at CES fights to preserve the secrecy of their latest and greatest products, Intel has been happily blathering about them for months. The best bit: that doesn't make them any less exciting...

Today saw Intel formally launch Sandy Bridge, potentially the biggest step forward in computing architecture since the launch of the original Core chips. To quote Intel CEO Paul Otellini (pictured): "they are the best product we've ever built and the most exciting product we've ever built."

What makes Sandy Bridge worthy of so much hype? The reason is because it represents an important industry first by combining processor and graphics on a single piece of 32nm silicon. Intel calls this "processor based graphics" and the upshot is radically improved GPU performance and greater power efficiency. In addition it allows Intel to build two hugely important features into their chipsets for the first time:

1. Quick Sync Video
With Quick Sync video Intel has written GPU acceleration into Sandy Bridge's core instructions. The result is video conversion and editing times are slashed. Intel gives the example of ripping a four minute 1080p video for playback on an iPod. Using last generation Intel hardware this took four minutes, with Sandy Bridge the task was completed in 16 seconds.

"We believe this {transcoding} is faster than any discrete graphics card on the market" said Mooly Eden, head of Intels' PC Client Group (pictured above). He went on to show a desktop with "$400 graphics card" take 4x as long to complete a similar rip as a laptop with Sandy Bridge.

The graphics performance filters through to gaming as well with Intel showing World of Warcraft running as smoothly on a Sandy Bridge laptop as on a full scale gaming machine. Again no specs were given - either for the game's settings or the machines themselves - but the image quality was high enough that the demo looked impressive when blown up in excess of 100 inches for the conference audience, so clearly quality settings weren't being shortcut.

Furthermore Intel showed Sandy Bridge has the muscle for real time avatar rendering and called on Valve co-founder Gabe Newell to give us a look at the upcoming Portal 2 (shipping April). The sequel is a massive graphical step forward from its predecessor and again Sandy Bridge was able to run it smoothly even during complex explosions and smoke. "This is a game changer for mobile and desktop" said Newell.

"It will outperform 40 to 50 per cent of discrete graphics" added Eden and while hardcore PC gamers are unlikely to be throwing away their latest GeForce and Radeon cards it will bring reasonable gaming capabilities to integrated graphics for the first time.

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