It's official: Intel is releasing the first of its Core i7 processors today.
During an event in San Francisco Nov. 17, Intel will release the first three processors in its Core i7 family. The three Core i7 processors are based on an updated microarchitecture code-named Nehalem. The launch will allow Intel and its PC vendor partners to have new systems on store shelves for the holiday shopping season.
To support the Intel Core i7 debut, Dell and Gateway are ready to launch several new high-end desktops and gaming PCs that use the microprocessors. While most of these systems are for enthusiasts and gamers, Dell's Studio XPS desktop is being positioned as a PC for home offices and for those working in the content creation field.
The three new processors are the Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition (3.2GHz), the Core i7-940 (2.93GHz) and the Core i7-920 (2.66GHz). All three chips are built on Intel's 45-nanometer manufacturing process. Each processor has four processing cores, with each core supporting two instructional threads, and all four cores share 8MB of Level 3 cache. The prices range from $999 on the high end to $284 on the low end, with prices calculated in 1,000-unit shipments.
The Nehalem microarchitecture allowed Intel to change its overall chip design and offer a number of power-saving features such as Turbo Boost, which adjusts the clock speed of the individual cores depending on what applications are running.
However, the most significant improvement is the integrated memory controller, the part of the CPU that communicates with the DDR (double data rate) memory chips, which eliminates the front-side bus. This type of integration will allow for greater levels of performance without increasing the clock speed of the processor, which should also keep the thermal envelope the same as the previous generation.
Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, said the Nehalem architecture was perhaps the most significant change Intel has made to its chip design since the Intel 386 chip was introduced in the mid-1980s.
"The 386 represented a shift from 16-bit computing to 32-bit computing, and it had completely new architecture and new interfaces everywhere," McCarron said. "This is what Nehalem is. It is completely new architecture and new interfaces everywhere. It's not breaking the x86 compatibility, but it is a different product. By having the integrated memory controller, it gives the chip a significant boost in performance, and we saw the same thing when AMD [Advanced Micro Devices] made the transition from non-integrated to integrated."