What does the future hold for laptop PCs?

Intel’s Sandy Bridge technology is less than a year old, but the next big thing already appears to be on the horizon. Ivybridge

The company showed off prototypes for its “Ivy Bridge” processors this week at its Intel Developer Forum and the early word is encouraging – with faster speeds, lower power consumption and amazing battery life.

Now, I realize that processor chips aren’t exactly sexy, so I’ll avoid getting too deep into the weeds here. They are, though, the brains behind all the gadgets the entertainment industry depends upon to distribute content – so the more we know about them, the better.

Let’s look backwards first: Rolled out in January, Sandy Bridge (technically called second generation Core processors) were vastly faster than the previous line and offered strong video processing capabilities as well as security enhancements for studios.

Warner Bros., Dreamworks and 20th Century Fox partnered with Intel to deliver high definition content in a secure environment – and created enough of a comfort factor that studios agreed to release HD films to the PC market simultaneously with DVD and Blu-Ray releases.

Ivy Bridge will contain all of that – as well, apparently, as the ability to remain on standby for 10 full days, while remaining connected to the Internet. That’s done by reducing the power required while a laptop is in idle mode, meaning the batteries can last a lot longer.

Apple machines still have an idle time advantage over Intel, able to run for up to 30 days, but they don’t stay connected online.

Why is this useful? In short, when you take a Ivy Bridge powered laptop out of idle, your email will be caught up (theoretically, of course, the chips are still being fine tuned) or the movie you’ve paused can resume almost instantly.

Intel will likely talk a lot more about these chips at CES in January – but the company already had them up and running in its Ultrabook laptops, easing some fears that the technology was running behind. The early word on the systems sounds encouraging, though.

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