Beyond Dual Core: 2007 Desktop CPU Road Map - Iel aadvances

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Extensive digging has revealed a good portion of Intel's plan for increasing desktop market share in the coming year. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the company's processor road map revolves around the Core microprocessor architecture, formerly code-named "Merom." One of the smashing success stories of 2006, Core 2 processors offer unparalleled levels of performance per watt of energy consumed and may allow Intel to recapture market share lost to AMD over the past three years. (Core 2 processors are based on the Core architecture; so-called Core processors were based on the company's previous Pentium 4/M architecture.)

In attempt to round out its desktop CPU portfolio in the first half of 2007, Intel will focus on several new processor families based on the Core 2 architecture at all performance levels, including a new value line that uses Core 2 at the Celeron level. Here are the details.

Early 2007 brings new Core 2 processors

At the high-end performance level, Intel will release three new quad-core CPUs at the beginning of the year, dubbed the Core 2 Quad Q6600, Q6400 and Q6300. These three processors will be dual-core, dual-die processors, meaning that they will essentially be two Core 2 processors joined together.

Scheduled for release in the first week of January, the Q6600 will have a clock speed of 2.4 GHz, the Q6400 will have a clock speed of 2.13 GHz, and the Q6300 will operate at 1.86 GHz. Each processor will operate on a 1,066-MHz front-side bus and have 8MB of total Level 2 cache, with 4MB of shared cache on each die. (A large L2 cache allows for faster retrieval of frequently accessed data, thereby speeding up overall system performance.)

In the first half of 2007, Intel will also release a new series of Core 2 Duo processors aimed at the midrange market. These dual-core, single-die processors will reside in the newly introduced Core 2 Duo E4000 series, and the initial release will consist of three CPUs: the 2-GHz E4400, the 1.8-GHz E4300 and the 1.6-GHz E4200.

This category of CPUs will operate on an 800-MHz front-side bus and will likely come with a 2MB shared L2 cache. The E4300 will be the first processor in this family released and could be in desktop PCs as soon as February. It is widely expected that E4000 processors will come with virtualization and 64-bit support.

Finally, in an attempt to make significant inroads in the value CPU sector -- one that has traditionally been dominated by AMD -- Intel is trickling its Core 2 CPU line down to the low-cost market. Intel has not yet made it clear whether these processors will be single-core versions of the Core 2 Duo or dual-core chips with one core disabled.

In the second quarter, Intel plans to release a number of processors in this value category. Around this same time, the chipmaker will probably phase out the Pentium 600 series, specifically the Pentium 4 651, 641 and 631.

To avoid confusing CPU buyers, Intel will use the Pentium and Celeron brand names for these new CPUs, even though they are based on the Core architecture.

In the Pentium bracket, we'll see releases of the E1060, E1040 and E1020. The E1060 will have a clock speed of 1.8 GHz, the E1040 will run at 1.6 GHz, and the E1040 will run at 1.4 GHz. Each will have 1MB of L2 cache with a front-side bus speed of 800 MHz. While these processors will support Intel's 64-bit extensions, none of the E1000 line will support virtualization or hyperthreading, a technology that allows single-core CPUs to behave as if they were dual-core ones.

In the Celeron bracket, CPU buyers will likely see a wide range of clock speeds. At press time, no specific model numbers or clock speeds were available, but it appears that the name of this series of processors will be the Celeron 400 series and that these processors will have 512KB of L2 cache. It is not clear whether or not these processors will support 64-bit extensions, virtualization or HyperThreading.