Intels savior has arrived.
The Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker on July 27 unveiled its Core 2 Duo processor for desktops and notebooks during an event at its Silicon Valley headquarters.
Intel executives proclaimed the chip—and therefore Intel itself—the new king of the PC processor hill, based on its strengths, which promises a 40 percent increase in performance and a 40 percent reduction in power consumption versus the Pentium D, its predecessor in desktops.
But the Core 2 Duo—which will come out first in consumer desktops this week and follow in corporate desktops and then notebooks in August—represents even more for the company.
“This is one of the biggest new microprocessors weve done in many years—at least a decade—and many people say the biggest one since the Pentium,” said David Tuhy, general manager of desktop products division in Santa Clara, in an interview with eWEEK.
Meanwhile, with 550 Core 2 Duo desktop and notebook designs in the works, “Weve got a lot of momentum on the products.”
The overall significance for Intel is also big. The chip maker has conducted an extensive business efficiency review, which has already lead to some layoffs, while also working feverishly to deliver the Core 2 Duo chips to market as quickly as possible.
The two actions, while seemingly independent, both work to help Intel right itself after a string of lackluster quarters and attempt to win back the market share recently taken by rival Advanced Micro Devices.
“This is the chip thats the key to Intels recovery,” said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research, in Cave Creek, Ariz.
“[Intel] needs this product. The product and its derivatives are pretty critical for Intel to maintain a competitive position,” McCarron said.
Even so, statements by Intel executives such as Tuhy may seem at least slightly overblown.
“I wouldnt underestimate the value and impact of this chip for Intel,” McCarron said. “Intel has been running on the same microarchitecture [circuitry that underpins its processor] for six years.”
That architecture, known as NetBurst, is the basis for Intels Pentium 4, Pentium D and most of its Xeon server chips. But its no longer considered competitive from a performance or power-consumption perspective, he said.
The Core 2, however, uses a new circuitry, dubbed Core Microarchitecture, enabling it to add performance and cut power. This has allowed Intel to become more competitive with AMD, following a period of market share loss and lackluster quarterly financials.
Intel unveiled a total of five new Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Duo Extreme chips, created for high-end desktops PCs, on July 27. The chips are sometimes referred to by their code name, “Conroe.”
Available in systems immediately are dual-core Core 2 Duo E6300, E6400, E6600 and E6700 desktops chips. They run at speeds ranging from 1.86GHz to 2.66GHz and list for prices between $183 and $530.
A Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor, designed for jobs like gaming and corporate workstations, runs at 2.93GHz and lists for $999.
It will also offer five Core 2 Duo chips for notebooks—also known by their code-name “Merom”—that include models T5500, T5600, T7200, T7400 and T7600.
They range in speed from 1.66GHz to 2.33GHz. Intel did not release prices on July 27, however, because the chips wont hit the market in systems until August.
Still, Intel has set prices for most of the new chips at relatively low-levels. The Pentium D, the Core 2 Duos predecessor arrived at a top price of $637.
“Its pretty much a wake-up call. [Intel] hasnt been as competitive as it needs to be either from a performance or a pricing standpoint. They know it,” said Richard Shim, analyst at IDC in San Mateo, Calif. “From the desktop side, its kind of catch-up for the company. But its something they have to do. Its something that they have to be aggressive with.”
PC manufacturers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway displayed aggressive prices on some of the first desktops to use the chips on July 27.
HP will offer Core 2 Duos in several consumer desktops at first. One, its Pavilion d4600y, will be offered direct to consumers with standard features that include a Core 2 Duo E6300, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, a DVD burner and Nvidias GeForce 7300LE graphics card, for a starting price of $899, said Shagorika Dixit, product manager for consumer desktops at HP in Palo Alto, Calif.
Dell, meanwhile, began offering Core 2 Duo in desktops, including its XPS 410 and XPS 700. The XPS 410 combines a Core 2 Duo E6300 processor with 1GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, an Nvidia GeForce 7300LE graphics card and a 20-inch flat panel monitor for $1,595, Dells site shows.
The company will also offer a Dimension 2900 desktop for a starting price of about $1,000, Dell representatives said.
Gateway unveiled its Gateway FX510 desktop line, which will offer Pentium D and Core 2 Duo. A Core 2 Duo version with the E6400 chip, 2GB of RAM, 320GB of hard drive capacity, an ATI Radeon X1900XT graphics card and a 21-inch flat panel monitor starts at $2,199, Gateways Web site shows.
PC makers, thus far, have had good things to say about Intels new chips.
“This is definitely a processor to watch out for in the future,” Dixit said. “The performance is good, compared to the previous generation of processors” from Intel.
But HP, Dixit said, will offer Core 2 Duo alongside AMDs Athlon 64 X2.
“We like to offer consumers a choice,” she said. “AMD has addressed a lot of this [difference in performance between Core 2 Duo and Athlon 64 X2] with appropriate pricing. Theres a value for both … itll be reflected on our roadmap, especially in retail.”
The Core 2 Duo, as noted by HPs Dixit, has had other effects on the market. Its arrival has prompted price cuts by Intel—which dropped prices on its Pentium 4 and Pentium D chips—as well as AMD.
Those cuts are expected to help proliferate dual-core processors, which package two processors into a single chip and thus offer greater performance.
With the launch of the Core 2 Duo chip, Intel lowered prices of its Pentium D chips by up to 40 percent. Its family of Pentium Ds now list for between $93 and $316.
AMD, in response, lowered Athlon 64 X2 prices significantly. Its Athlon 64 X2 chips now range from $152 for a Model 3800+ to $301 for its top-end 5000+.
The lower mean dual-core desktops will now cost less, making them available to a wider range of customers.
“What well likely see in the short term is a tremendous amount of activity on the Pentium D,” McCarron said. “The Core 2 Duo will occupy the top bins of the market for dual-core, and the mainstream or even the upper end of the value PC market is going to migrate to dual-core probably this quarter,” McCarron said.
Buyers can already find dual-core desktops in the $500 range, which is considered a sweet spot for consumer PCs. HPs Pavilion a1520y desktop, in just one example, can be fitted with a Pentium D 805—Intels entry-level dual-core desktop chip—for as little as $539 after rebates via HPshopping.com. The site also offers Pavilion a1550 desktops starting at $629, after rebates, with Pentium D or Athlon 64 X2 chips.
Core 2 Duo business desktops and notebooks, meanwhile, will arrive in coming weeks.
Many of the Core 2 Duo business desktops, machines such as HPs new xw4400 Workstation and Dells Precision 390 workstation are expected to arrive in early August.
Meanwhile, Core 2 Duo notebooks—many of which will be upgraded versions of existing machines—are expected to arrive by the end of August.
Many of the Core 2 Duo notebooks will be aimed at consumers. Notebook are likely to wait to deliver all-new Core 2 Duo business machines until the first half of 2007, during which time Intel will roll out Santa Rosa, a new chip platform for notebooks.
For its part, Intel has put a great deal of emphasis on its ability to ship its Core Microarchitecture processors—which provides the circuitry that underlies chips like Core 2 Duo—ahead of schedule.
Intel aims to continue the trend in the fourth quarter, during which it plans to deliver its first quad-core chips, including Kentsfield for desktops and Clovertown for servers.
However, Intel has not yet clarified whether or not the quads will be available for purchase in PCs and servers before the end of the quarter.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include more information and comments from Intel executives and PC manufacturers.