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Chip off the old block

Leaving the Pentium processor at the starting gate, Intel's much-anticipated Core Duo 2 processor promises a 40 per cent performance boost, while reducing power consumption by a similar amount. Its executives liken its significance to the introduction of its first Pentium processor a decade ago. Today, the latest technology will mean a business boost for components, hard drives, motherboards, graphics cards and other related gear. Calling it a new breed of super chip, some claim Intel can now reclaim the desktop crown from rival, AMD).

Several industry players have also tipped Intel's volume pricing for Core 2 Duo as an aggressive move to propel marketshare.

Intel Australia national sales manager, Andrew McLean, said the highly anticipated processor line already had broad support, with more than 550 customer system designs underway -- the most in the vendor's history.

Smaller, Quieter

The latest chip developments would mean better graphics, less power consumption, as well as the advent of smaller and silent machines, he said.

"System builders will be able to build high-performance PCs in smaller, quieter cases," he said. "Cool and quiet is particularly important in the home environment, and in large business installations."

Intel's previous generation of Pentium Extreme Edition chips drew up to 135W of power. The Core 2 Extreme X6800 draws 75W, according to Intel's thermal design specification, while mainstream Core 2 Duo parts bring that down to 65W.

"It's a major shift in design to the core micro-architecture from the NetBurst one, which underpins the Pentium," McLean said. "It's a complete redesign from the ground up."

Intel took some pointers from its Pentium M mobile CPUs, and SpeedStep technology, in order to flesh out the new architecture.

The goal is smarter processors thyat can monitor what applications are being run and adjust the amount of power to match.

Top features include the addition of wide dynamic execution, smart memory access, advanced smart cache, advanced digital media boost and 64-technology, McLean said.

Another major advantage Core 2 Duo has over its Pentium predecessors is the additional execution unit on each CPU core.

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Various Platforms

"Core 2 Duos have four units per CPU versus three per core with the Pentium D," he said.

The additional unit per core means the Core 2 Duo chips can outperform Pentium D chips that run at higher clock speeds.

The fact the technology supported various platforms, including Intel vPro technology for businesses, Intel Centrino Duo mobile technology for laptops, and Intel Viiv technology for the home, meant partners had broad selling opportunities, McLean said. Processor-intensive applications would hum along in a host of segments.

"It's a compelling story for system integrators and the channel," he said. "Partners can take the message out to the home user, the SMB space, to government fleets, to the high-end enthusiast and gamer markets."

A major focus area for the chip giant is the digital office. Through Core 2 Duo, McLean said resellers could pitch remote services to the SMB arena on a fleet of desktops including network monitoring, asset tracking, and downloading security patches. "There's not only an opportunity for system builders to sell the product, but to help customers upgrade and to move towards a services model," he said.

Price and performance were the biggest draw cards of the super chips, Plus Corporation managing director, Nigel Fernandes, said.

"Intel now has the upper hand over AMD in terms of price and performance. It has a one- to two-year advantage," he said. "It's one of the biggest launches in the past 10 years. Had it coincided with Windows Vista, it would have been even bigger."

McLean said the product came at volume pricing, which was unusual from day one. The E6300 processor, for example, offered comparable price points to the Pentium 4 631.

While Fernandes didn't expect huge sales increases, he said the Core 2 Duo would cut into his AMD business.

Core Duo was a likely fit with media centre PCs because of the big power and low power consumption, he said. The new chips require less power, and generate less heat, which reduces the need for noisy fans.

While there were initial hiccups with supply of the new Intel chips, particularly at the high-end, Fernandes said that was not the case anymore. While he received limited supply despite being one of five launch partners, things had turned a corner.

"Supply initially went up and down, but there are no problems now," he said.

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Rival sounds

AMD country manager, Caleb Leung, welcomed the competition. The vendor recently rolled out AM2, a DDR2 platform designed for desktop processors. Targeting the performance, mainstream and value segments, it replaces Socket 939 and Socket 754.

DDR2 runs at higher clock frequencies while drawing less power than DDR memory, which the previous Socket 939 supported. Socket AM2 is part of AMD's next generation of CPU sockets, along with Socket F for serves and Socket S1 for mobile computing.

"The one socket technology is good for partners, allowing them to differentiate with the CPU, and it gives customers a better total cost of ownership and fewer pain points," Leung said.

More activity is afoot at AMD. It recently announced its next-generation Opteron server processor line, which offers upgradeability to quad core within the same thermal design power envelope.

In mid-2007, AMD plans to deliver native quad-core AMD Opteron processors incorporating four processor cores on a single die of silicon.

The processors use Direct Connect Architecture, which delivers x86-based 32- and 64-bit computing and reduces traditional front-side bus bottlenecks.

These and other product moves are driving what Leung said was a tough components market.

"It's very cutthroat out there," he said. "We need to help our partners look for ongoing opportunities, and help them upsell. AM2 is one opportunity."

Plus Corp's Fernandes said AM2 didn't rival the Intel launch.

He didn't expect to see comparable product come out of the AMD gates at least for the next 12 months.

Real activity would surface once the AMD merger of ATI took affect.

Boosted Business

"We'll see something radical in the next 12 months that will go up against Intel," he said.

Gigabyte Australia managing director, Alan Chen, said the AMD/ATI link was positive for the industry, but it was still early days.

"At the moment, I don't see what the difference will be in terms of product," he said. "It will take some time to leverage resources."

In light of the Intel launch, Gigabyte was gearing up for boosted business in the commercial and consumer segments, Chen said.

The company recently unveiled its 945 S-series of motherboards, further extending its range of top-to-bottom solutions for Intel Core 2 Duo processors.

Chen said the latest motherboards gave PC users a power boost for digital home entertainment, and more productive gaming.

"Users get better performance, lower power consumption and lower temperatures so the thermal issue is no more. The problem has been fixed," he said.

The fact the product is priced at mainstream levels will further drive sales.

"It's new, but it's not expensive, which is different. Typically it comes out at the high-end and is usually pricey," Chen said.

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Price Surprise

"This shows the Intel transition is aggressive. We can see the transition for this is much quicker."

Chen said the local components market had been sluggish. The price war and intense competition between Intel and AMD kept many customers hesitant.

"People have been waiting for the next big one to come out, eyeing both Conroe and AM2," he said.

Chen predicted sales would pick up given the affordable prices, and increase in the lead up to Vista.

"The Vista launch next year will drive PC replacement business. There will better hardware, more memory, 1GB as a minimum, so a nice compelling story for customers," Chen said.

MSI marketing manager, Harlem Chiang, expected both AM2 and Intel's Core Duo launch to boost its business this year.

The company unleashed its AM2 series motherboards (the K9N platform) on the same day as the Intel 975X Core 2 processor platform.

"The Intel chip is innovative, and we've been waiting for it," he said. "The market has been holding out for the release. It will move quickly when mass produced. It's good news for us as motherboard makers."

Both platforms gave users a boost in 3D gaming and multimedia environments, Chiang said.

On the corporate front, the latest chips would have a positive affect on the desktop, mobile and server space, he said.

Intel's McLean said gamer or power users weren't the only users that could take advantage of boosted processing technology.

"Multitasking is a big benefit. Users will start to appreciate the fact they can run a virus scan while rendering video at the same time," he said.

Expect to hear more stories about boosted performance stories in the days ahead, McLean said. When the notebook version arrives in town, users can expect to see sleeker and lighter laptops with improved battery life.