Notebooks in particular are due for some major improvements this year thanks to the continued efforts of Intel, AMD and nVidia. If the arrival of mobile Sandy Bridge hasn't yet convinced you to upgrade that Core 2 Duo clunker you've been using since 2008, here's a few more reasons why you should seriously consider upgrading in 2012.
Mobile Sandy Bridge has been a runaway success for Intel and notebook vendors, much the same way C2D helped spur notebook sales in years past. Yet the class-leading performance Intel's mobile Core i3, i5 and i7 derivatives provide will be getting a boost this year thanks to mobile Ivy Bridge. With core frequencies increasing between 100-400MHz, a faster HD4000 GPU and the same 35/45/55W TDP, notebooks again will have the potential to offer capabilities SB and older technologies simply weren't capable of offering.
Much like SB, however, Intel continues to use the same obscure naming scheme for mobile Ivy Bridge processors. Heading the lineup will be the multiplier-unlocked 4C/8T Core i7-3920XM clocked at 2.9GHz, with a 3.6GHz Turbo maximum. Even at 2.0GHz, mobile Sandy Bridge already delivers, so a 50%+ boost in raw clock speed will translate into some very impressive performance gains.
More interesting will be the Core i7-3667U and Core i5-3427U. Running at a very battery-friendly 17W TDP, these ultra-low-voltage 2C/4T variants will not only find homes in multiple 13" ultrabooks, but may even enter the 11.6" category reserved for high-end netbooks. Considering that HD4000 GPU performance now comes standard on these ULV parts, and is notably more potent than the HD3000 solution we've seen so far, it will be possible to get very impressive GPU and HD video capabilities from even the most svelte designs, without requiring a discreet GPU on board.
Finally, if mobile Ivy Bridge still hasn't tickled your fancy, there's always Intel's socket 2011. Yep, X79 comes to the notebook in 2012 thanks to the ingenious (some would call borderline crazy) engineers over at Clevo. You'll soon be able to order a 6C/12T Core i7-3960X running at a stock speed of 3.3GHz inside your desktop-replacement notebook. Throw in a pair of next-gen 600 series mobile GPU cards in SLI from nVidia, or mobile 7000 AMD cards in crossfire, and you end up with a notebook that can dish out the kind of performance considered respectable for even a high-end desktop.
Intel made it evident that Cedar Trail has landed by showcasing numerous netbook models at CES 2012 with the Atom N2600 on board. I'll be frank, CPU performance doesn't improve much, but the GPU end does get a very significant boost. If existing synthetic benchmarks are anything to go by, users can expect between a 100% to 400% increase in raw GPU capability. That should not only guarantee flawless 1080p HD video playback, but open up the opportunities for 3D gaming. Already, the N570 has been shown to offer a decent 3D gaming experience on older DX9 titles. Given the very low $400 asking price for high-end 10" netbooks today, I may in fact upgrade for a little faster CPU with a lot better graphics capabilities!
Be that as it may, Cedar Trail may end up getting a nail or two in it's coffin thanks to mobile Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge. HP already introduced late last year a 11.6" netbook sporting a ULV mobile Sandy Bridge CPU complete with HD3000 integrated graphics. I would not find it out of the ordinary to see ULV Ivy Bridge find it's way into the 11.6" segment as well, and give the Atom a performance spanking much like AMD's Nile platform did in 2010. CPU performance in Brazos has been anything but spectacular, yet Ivy Bridge offers CPU performance akin to today's Sandy Bridge, alongside a very notable GPU performance increase with HD4000.
Much like the calm before the storm, slate manufacturers continue to patiently wait in 2012 for Microsoft to officially release Windows 8. The new OS has already been shown to work solid on existing hardware, on both ARM and x86. This is no small matter, given the over 500 million existing Windows 7 installations MS will be hoping to migrate Windows 8 over to, alongside new desktops, notebooks, netbooks and slates sold in 2012 and beyond. Considering the embarrassing flop HP made last year with WebOS, a new OS ecosystem alongside Android and iOS would be much welcome. Manufacturers were already showing off several Windows 8 designs under the covers at CES this year, and I expect many more to see the light of day as soon as MS takes the wraps off the new operating system.
Software aside, slates also promise to see hardware advances thanks to new notebook and netbook parts. I saw several slates at CES with Cedar Trail internals, including one with ULV Sandy Bridge (or possibly Ivy Bridge) inside. Such performance combined with a 720p HD-capable display and a generous 2GB-4GB RAM should bring users a very fluid native Windows experience. Sure, CES is also convenient for displaying never-to-be-released vaporware with maximum hoopla, but given the advances hardware manufacturers such as Intel have already released or have on their road maps, it's clear OEM's will be flooding CES with Windows 8 slates come January 2013.
The downside will of course be price, as miniaturization has never come cheap - cramming so much into such a thin form-factor comes at a premium. As much as I would love to see a capable 7" Windows 8 slate, a price tag of $600 or higher may put it beyond what people (as well as myself) are willing to shell out.