Intel’s Penryn Set to Make a Splash at CES

Intel’s earlier launch of the Penryn family of 45 nanometer processors was a bit on the modest side, with just a few Xeons and the top of the line in the desktop family. But this week’s International CES 2008 show will see a much bigger collection of processors across the desktop, mobile and low-end server line.

All told, Intel will introduce 16 new chips, including the first Centrino chips for mobility using the 45nm manufacturing processor. Intel is introducing five new dual core mobile processors, four dual core desktop processors, three quad core desktop processors, three quad-core Xeons and one dual-core Xeon.

The new Centrino Penryn laptop chips come with support for 802.11n wireless networks, and later this year, Intel plans to ship its first-generation low-power WiMAX platform chipset for laptop and mobile devices.

In addition to the smaller manufacturing process, these new chips use the new hafnium-based metal gate, which reduces electrical leakage and runs cooler. In evaluating the top of the line quad-core Penryn desktop against Intel’s previous high-end chip, our sister site found the new Penryn to be about 8-10 percent faster but considerably cooler.

Connie Brown, a spokesperson for Intel, said those kinds of improvements in performance and heat reduction can be expected across the board, “but on some apps where you can take advantage of the new SSE4 instruction sets, you will see a much larger performance gain.”

The new SSE4 instruction set is specifically for gaming, multimedia and graphics, in particular, HD video playback.

In addition to the new manufacturing process and instructions, the Penryn family is getting performance bumps thanks to larger caches and a faster bus. The Penryns will sport L2 caches of 6MB to 12MB, an increase of the 4MB to 8MB caches in previous products. The top-end quad core desktops will have 12MB of cache, same as the previous generation. The bus speed has been increased from 1066Mhz to 1333Mhz.

For the mobile chips, the cache has expanded from 2MB or 4MB to 3-6MB, while the bus speed has been pumped up from 667MHz to 800MHz.

The new Xeons due this month are in the X33x0 family of low-end chips for single socket servers. All are quad-core with clock speeds of 2.5GHz to 2.83GHz, 6 to 12MB of cache and bus speeds of 1333MHz.

Intel plans to keep its current family of processors on the market for now. This means a huge number of processors to choose from, but Brown thinks the market will sort it all out. “There’s different processors for different needs,” she said. “Eventually people will quit using the older parts but there’s a crossover in the marketplace as we ramp it up. How long that is depends on how many customers and what OEMs are designing in.”

Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini will deliver one of the CES keynotes on Monday, January 7, at 4:30 p.m.

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