Intel launches its combo graphics-microprocessor chips

Intel is formally introducing one of its most important chips in a long time today. The code-named Sandy Bridge chip combines graphics and a microprocessor on the same silicon chip.

The company is making the announcement in advance of the Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest tech event of the year which starts on Tuesday in Las Vegas. At CES, dozens of computer makers will introduce 500 new computers based on what Intel calls its second-generation Intel Core processor family.

With the Sandy Bridge design, computer makers don’t have to add separate graphics chips from Advanced Micro Devices or Nvidia — at least for laptops that don’t need stellar performance. AMD is also debuting its Fusion combo chip this week, making CES 2011 one of the most competitive computer events in a long time. Altogether, Intel has 29 new Core i3, i5 and i7 processors.

The new graphics-heavy approach for Sandy Bridge is a recognitio of how much users need 3D graphics and fast video performance in this day and age. Intel is calling this emphasis on graphics the User Visual Experience. Sandy Bridge can quickly convert video from one format to another, though not as fast as stand-alone graphics chips can.

The first chips available from Intel will be quad-core Sandy Bridge models, which have four microprocessor cores, or brains, on one chip. The chips also feature version 2.0 of Intel Wireless Display, which can wirelessly show your laptop’s screen on a TV in high-definition 1080p resolution.

With a feature called Intel Insider, the chip can unlock premium high-definition content such as movies on a computer. The platform will help studios distribute their content without a risk of piracy. Systems using the first Sandy Bridge chips will be available on Jan. 9 and more dual-core models will be available in February. Intel is building the chips with its 32-nanometer manufacturing technology.

The chip isn’t necessarily going to kill stand-alone graphics chips. The Intel chip can handle DirectX 10.1 graphics, but it can’t do the most advanced graphics standard, DirectX 11. That means a lot of games won’t run properly on Sandy Bridge machines.

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