We've all been eagerly anticipating Intel's release of its quad-core microprocessors. The chip maker hopes to regain its performance crown with these four-headed beasts. We got our hands on a sample and put it through its paces. Does it deliver?
With the advent of the Intel Core architecture earlier this year, it became clear that Intel was back at the top as the performance king for the desktop processor market. Intel has shifted right away from clock-scaling and the Netburst architecture, and moved towards better performance-per-watt ratios and increasing the number of processing cores. The Intel Core series CPUs come in three main varieties:
Core Solo: Single core CPU, code named Yonah, designed for notebooks; there will soon be an Allendale version for desktops.
Core Duo: Dual core CPU, code named Yonah, designed for notebooks.
Core 2 Duo: Dual core CPU available for both notebooks (code named Merom) and desktops (code named Conroe for 4 MB cached chips and Allendale for 2MB cached chips).
Intel plans to release a quad-core edition of the Core CPU some time during Q4 2006, codenamed Kentsfield. This CPU is to be available in QX6600 and QX6700 varieties. Each will have four cores clocked at 2.4GHz and 2.66GHz respectively, and 8MB cache, 4MB per each pair of cores. The Kentsfield, to be called Core 2 Quadro upon release, is to be the first quad-core CPU available to the desktop market, giving unprecedented performance to everyday users.
Essentially this CPU is just two Core 2 Duos slabbed on one PCB. One of the things that disappointed us most was that the 8MB of cache was not shared between all four cores, but rather only 4MB is available to each pair of cores, limiting single threaded performance to the equivalent of that of the Core 2 Duo at equivalent clocks.
It seems that after the disappointment of Netburst, Intel is rushing to reclaim the performance crown by rushing out the Kentsfield by the end of 2006. It was originally planned for a Q2 2007 release. By producing it using their 65nm transistors rather than moving to 45nm transistors as originally planned, they are able to have it ready at the end of this year. This may potentially lead to heat concerns; while the Conroe didn't have any heat issues, Kentsfield, being essentially two Conroes, each having a TDP of 65W, leads the Kentsfield to have approximately 130W TDP. That is somewhat shy of the furnaces that were the dual core Netburst chips, but it still produces a rather worrying amount of heat, which may limit its overclock with conventional cooling methods.
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