Intel launches power-efficient Penryn processors

Processors faster, more power efficient than predecessors

Intel has launched its long-awaited new line of power-efficient microprocessors, code-named Penryn, designed to deliver better graphics and application performance as well as virtualisation capabilities.

The chip-maker teamed up with 40 original equipment manufacturers to deliver Penryn-based Xeon and Core 2 processors. Vendors including HP and Lenovo have already announced business desktops with Penryn-based quad-core Xeon 5400 processors, with more server announcements scheduled to come soon.

The processors, manufactured using a 45-nanometre process, feature smaller transistors and cut down on electricity leaks, which made them faster and more power efficient than earlier 65-nm processors, director for Intel's digital enterprise group operations, Stephen Smith, said. The most power-hungry Penryn-based systems will consume no more than 120 watts (W).

Penryn-based notebooks that were due in the first quarter of 2008 would use 25W, Smith said. Today's 65-nm notebooks consumed 35W. While cutting down on power usage, Penryn processors jumped to higher clock rates and feature cache and design improvements that improved the processors' performance compared with earlier 65-nm processors, he said.

The processors deliver a 40-60 per cent improvement in video and imaging performance, Smith said. New instructions on the processor sped up photo manipulation and encoding of high-definition video.

Intel's Penryn processor for gaming systems, the 45nm Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quad-core processor, took advantage of the instructions and included a larger cache to deliver better graphics and video performance, Smith said.

Hardware enhancements allowed virtual machines to load up to 75 per cent faster, Smith said.

The Penryn launch signalled a new era in the way Intel manufactures chips, he said. The processors were the first to use high-k metal-gate transistors, which make the processors faster and less leaky compared with earlier processors that have silicon gates. The processor was lead free, and by the second half of 2008, Intel would produce chips that were halogen free, making them more environmentally friendly, Smith said.

Intel will ship 12 new quad-core Intel Xeon 5400 server chips in November with clock speeds ranging from 2GHz to 3.20GHz, with a 12MB cache. In December, it will ship three dual-core Xeon 5200 server chips with clock speeds of up to 3.40GHz and a 6MB cache. Intel would deliver the 45nm Penryn processors in multiple phases, Smith said.

In the first quarter of 2008, Intel will release the 45nm Core 2 Quad processors and Core 2 Duo processors for desktops. In the same quarter, it will launch the Core 2 Extreme and Core 2 Duo processors for notebooks. Intel plans to release 45-nm processors for ultramobile PCs in 2008, though Smith couldn't provide an exact release date.

Penryn was a significant follow-up to the 65-nm Core 2 processor launched last year, principal analyst at Mercury Research, Dean McCarron, said.

A lot of business workstation users and gamers were interested in the improved media and system performance Penryn processors deliver, he said.

While the Penryn provides a small performance boost, it's not a major change in architecture, an analyst at Insight 64, Nathan Brookwood, said. Rather than upgrading to Penryn systems, customers might wait for Nehalem, the next big overhaul in Intel's chip architecture that was scheduled for release in 2008, Brookwood said.

At Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco in September, Intel CEO, Paul Otellini, demonstrated Nehalem, and said it would deliver better performance-per-watt and better system performance through its QuickPath Interconnect system architecture. Nehalem chips will also include an integrated memory controller and improved communication links between system components.

However, people who need to buy hardware now would invest in Penryn systems, Brookwood said.

"It's not a massive upgrade cycle on notebooks and desktops," he said.

Pricing of the 45-nm Intel Xeon processors ranges from $US177 to $US1279 in quantities of 1000, depending on the model, speeds, features and number ordered.

The 45-nm Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quad-core processor is $999 in quantities of 1000.

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