I’ve been disappointed with the battery life of ultrabooks so far. The advantage of the low-voltage processors they use has always been negated by the smaller physical size of an ultrabook which, in turn, constrains the physical size of the battery. This means the incredible battery life figures quoted by manufacturers often don’t pan out in reality – and older ultraportables with larger batteries can last longer. Intel has been acting as if ultrabooks enable battery life that was never possible before and that simply is not the case.
Can Ivy Bridge and its fancy new 22nm manufacturing process resolve this issue?
These results are a bit of an improvement. Our system shipped, according to Intel’s specs, with 49.4Wh battery. That’s small among laptops in general but about average or perhaps above average for an ultrabook. Overall, the Ivy Bridge ultrabook’s results are nearly identical to those of the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3, which had a Sandy Bridge low-voltage processor and a larger 54Wh battery.
Trinity actually dusts them all at low load, but loses its advantage in tasks that require more power. The Trinity reference platform also had a larger 62Wh battery.
To try and shed more light on the situation we’re going to use a different graph, one that measures performance by gauging how many minutes of endurance are extracted out of each watt hour the battery has to offer. This can help us see how different platforms use power.
This graph helps us see the difference between power efficency and battery life. As you can see, the low-voltage processors are extremely efficient. The reason why this incredible efficency translate into moderately good battery life is the lack of room for a battery in the typical ultrabook. Don’t get me wrong – ultrabooks have good endurance. But we’ve seen far better results from laptops with bigger batteries, including ultraportables.
Trinity is a bit of a surprise because, in the low-load test, it is nearly as efficient as Intel’s low-voltage parts. That advantage disappears in the other tests, however.
I cannot render a definite verdict on battery life by looking at single reference platform. There are simply too many factors that could skew the results. It is possible to make an educated guess, however – and my guess is that Ivy Bridge ultrabooks will offer battery life that’s about the same as prior ultrabooks with Sandy Bridge processors.
Intel’s Ivy Bridge update to the ultrabook platform has strengths and weaknesses. Let’s talk about the strengths first.
It’s clear from the processor benchmarks that Intel has managed to bestow the low-voltage Ivy Bridge parts with a performance boost that’s just as respectable as the one given to the company’s Core i7-3720QM and other Ivy Bridge processors. The new Core i5-3427U is in a few cases able to beat the standard voltage Sandy Bridge Core i5-2540M. The 2540M is no slouch – it’s one of the quicker Sandy Bridge Core i5 mobile parts. Even when behind, the new 3427U puts up a good fight.
The features of an Intel ultrabook are also impressive – when they’re all available and used, as they are in the reference platform. The problem so far seems to be lack of enforcement and lack of consistent messaging. Manufacturers of course love to tack on their own marketing and their own software. Still, in its pure form, the platform’s features add value and are easy to customize to your own needs.
With that bit of cheeriness out of the way, let’s talk about the problems. Intel HD 4000 is first. This low-voltage rendition is between 15% and 40% slower, depending on the game. This causes problems for the ultrabook. Battlefield 3 is no longer playable at medium detail. Dawn of War 2: Retribution is still playable, but it’s significantly less enjoyable. Diablo 3 is playable, but only with all detail settings at low. The same goes for Skyrim. And even then, neither game feels smooth. They’re merely playable.
This would be bad enough, but it’s made worse by the demand for higher display resolutions. Though we tested at 1366×768 (in order to provide apples-to-apples comparisons) the reference platform has a resolution of 1600×900. I think this can be interpreted as a sign of where Intel would like the ultrabook to go, but the IGP in the low-voltage part is clearly not ready to handle gaming 1600×900 or 1080p.
The reference platform shows moderate improvements in battery life, which is fine, but not outstanding. Don’t get me wrong – the Core i5-3427U is obviously very efficient. The problem is that the platform lacks space for a large battery. Previous and current ultraportables usually offer equal or better endurance because they can pack larger batteries.
And then we come to price. It’s hard to say exactly how expensive any future product will be until it actually hits store shelves. Promises can be made and then broken. But Intel is still quoting $200 and $300 prices for Ivy Bridge low-voltage processors in its official data. These are not cheap parts. It’s hard to see how any laptop manufacturer is going to be able to offer an MSRP below $800 without cutting the quality of every other component on the laptop. That’s a problem. It will become an even greater problem if AMD’s 17W Trinity part offers equivilent graphics performance and better battery life at a low price.
The bottom line is this – the reasons for buying a Ivy Bridge low-voltage powered ultrabook over a more traditional ultraportable or multimedia laptop are few. Ivy Bridge is great and the platform benefits from its improved performance. But the platform itself constrains the possiblities of Ivy Bridge and reduces the quality of the user’s experience.
I think most readers considering an Ivy Bridge ultrabook would be better served by an Ivy Bridge ultraportable that’s slightly thicker and heavier but also faster and capable of providing better endurance. Unfortuantely, with Intel pushing the ultrabook so hard, such laptops might soon become extinct.