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New Intel CPUs 'Open Doors'

In a keynote at the Consumer Eletronics Show 2010 in Las Vegas today, Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini unveiled 2010 Intel Core, an all-new line of high-performance, multi-core processors for desktops, laptops and embedded applications. The parts embody a number of firsts for Intel. They incorporate a high definition graphics processing unit and are the first to be manufactured using the company's shiny new 32nm processing plant. The parts also house a DDR3 memory controller, and reintroduce Intel's Hyper Threading technology in a series of low-cost, multi-core x86 chips with performance akin to that of the company's i7, Pentium 4 and Xeon parts. The announcement includes the Core i7, Core i5 and Core i3, and is part of the larger release of more than 25 processors, Centrino Wi-Fi and Wi-MAX adapters and Series 5 Chipsets to support the new silicon's GPU. The Core i7 and Core i5 processors also are equipped with a feature called Turbo Boost, which can automatically overclock to 2.26GHz based on processing and power efficiency requirements. The integrated GPU still uses a portly 45nm die and requires the new H55 or H57 chips.

According to Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at market research firm In-Stat, performance increases that result from the new processors will not enable any new applications, per se, but will enhance what people are already doing in a package that's cheaper, smaller and consumes less power. "For their high-end laptops and workstations, OEMs have had to add fans and heat pipes to cool the units. Now they can put more [power] into these units and the price point moves more into the mid-range," between US$700 and $1299, he said.

More significant for the industry, McGregor said, is the integration of graphics and memory controllers with the central processor, giving all parts access to the same memory buffer. "That gives you more flexibility on how you use the use the GPU as a co-processor, to scale clock speed of both CPU and GPU and to scale not just according to performance needs but also by thermal limits," he said. Though Hyper Threading is not new, McGregor said the technology does introduce some functionality beyond setting multiple thread execution pipelines. "Now with Turbo Boost, you have an opportunity to create something like a virtual core without adding a physical core." In addition to an i7 or i5, this capability also requires a compatible chipset, BIOS and operating system.

In a benchmark report published earlier this week by Nebojsa Novakovic at the Inquirer, the two-core i5 661 processor outperformed a quad-core Athlon II 640 running at 3GHz. With on-board graphics turned off, the i5 can overclock "well beyond 4GHz," according to the report. Formerly code-named Clarkdale for desktops and Arrandale for laptops, the new series employs Intel's so-called Nehalem architecture. A six-core version is expected in the next few months.

Another key benefit of piling functionality into the CPU, McGregor added, is that it reduces the complexity, real estate and cooling requirements of device motherboards. "That opens the door to other platforms and form factors such as tablets," he said. Coincidentally, Microsoft today said it would retest the tablet waters with a device by mid-year. Apple, of course, still won't confirm rumors that it will announce a tablet on Jan 27.