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.”
PCs with Intel Core i7
The launch of the Intel Core i7 processors, which will require new motherboard designs and new PCs to support them, comes at a tough time for the entire IT industry. A number of research companies have slashed their IT spending forecasts for 2009, enterprise IT has slowed down, and the financial crisis has also taken a toll on consumer spending. Intel and its partners are aiming for the consumer market with the Core i7 line.
A further sign of trouble for the entire industry happened Nov. 12 when Intel cut its revenue forecast for the fourth quarter of 2008, citing less demand from PC vendors for its processors.
While the overall economy might not be favorable to a new launch right now, McCarron said Intel has to go forward with new products to keep it viable in the PC market. What Intel might do is bring out other Nehalem-based processors more slowly to get more use out of older chips such as the Core 2 Duo.
Still, anticipation is high for what Intel and its PC partners will offer now and in the coming year. Enterprise buyers and businesses can expect Nehalem-based processors for servers and workstation either in December or January, with chips for corporate clients and notebooks to follow later in 2009.
At the San Francisco show, Intel Senior Vice President Pat Gelsinger said that the company has shipped about 100,000 Core i7 processors so far. Gelsinger also said Intel is expecting about 500 different systems that will offer the Core i7 chips and the company already has 35 different motherboard design wins.
The new Dell XPS Studio desktop is close to what some businesses can expect when other Intel-based PCs come to market in 2009 that use Nehalem-based processors.
The XPS Studio, which goes on sale Nov. 17, offers either the Core i7-940 or Core i7-920 processor along with the newer Intel X58 chip set. The desktop can also support an ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card and up to 12GB of DDR3 memory with six DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots. The XPS also supports up to 1TB of data storage with a RAID 0 configuration.
Dell will sell the XPS Studio for a starting price of $949 without a display or $1,099 with a 19-inch monitor.
While the XPS studio is close to a mainstream desktop, Dell is also preparing to sell two new Alienware PCs and an XPS desktop that are geared toward gamers and PC enthusiasts.
Gateway, which is owned by Acer, is also launching new gaming systems based on the Intel Core i7 processor. These include the FX6800-01e, which starts at $1,250, and the high-end FX6800-05, which starts at $2,999.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include comments from Intel’s Pat Gelsinger.