AMD vs Intel: The future of desktop CPUs

2008 uncovered as AMD and Intel go head-to-head

It's the epic, age-old battle that just keeps being resurrected. Chip-giant Intel and the underdog Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) go head-to-head for desktop dominance. So what will 2008 hold for desktop processors? We've uncovered both company's plans for 2008 to allow you to decide just which purchase will suit your home or small business.

The harsh reality for AMD is that over the past two years, Intel has absolutely dominated the market in terms of performance. But that's just one half of the price-performance ratio, and AMD's willingness to slash prices and aggressively pursue the low- and midrange tiers of the desktop-computing market cannot be overrated, despite the company's technological lag.

Intel overview

At this point in time, it appears that Intel is far ahead of its primary competition in the CPU performance race. Critics and consumers alike have unanimously recognised the chip maker's Core 2 microarchitecture as vastly superior to AMD's processors. These circumstances smell like bad news for AMD fans – particularly at the high end.

Intel's current CPU road map is a continuation of the company's "tick-tock" strategy. According to this approach, each year the company alternates its emphasis between shrinking its CPU fabrication process and implementing a new microarchitecture.

Odd-numbered years see Intel concentrate on die shrinkage. Hence the shrinkage of the Core 2 processor line to an efficient and speedy 45nm process in 2007.

In even-numbered years, the company implements the "tock" in its tick-tock strategy and releases an entirely new CPU microarchitecture. Hence the planned release of Nehalem later this year. But before we jump into the game-changing aspects of Nehalem, let's take a closer look at the chip maker's Core 2 CPU plans for the first half of 2008.

Penryn Core 2 processors: 45nm and more

Penryn, the 45nm version of the Core 2 architecture, was the darling of CPU enthusiasts in 2007 because it delivered on both Intel's and consumers' price-performance expectations. According to numerous independent tests and the usual assortment of hardcore enthusiast sites, Penryn Core 2 processors offer a 20 percent increase in performance on average.

Additionally, the smaller size of these CPUs means that Intel has been able to mass produce more processors per wafer of silicon, resulting in lower prices and higher profit margins for Intel. Other new and improved features in Penryn chips include improved Virtualisation Technology, multimedia-enhancing SSE4 instructions and improved power consumption. For the majority of 2008, Intel will continue to exploit the substantial performance advantages Penryn processors currently enjoy over AMD processors.

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