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Intel’s Mobile Core i5 And Core i3: Arrandale Is For The Rest Of Us

It’s now January 2010, more than a year since we first saw Intel’s Nehalem micro-architecture emerge as Bloomfield on the desktop. While the company showed us its first Nehalem-based mobile design in Clarksfield late last year, that processor was never meant to serve as a high-volume product family—our power testing helped show why.

Fifteen months later, we have the first real Nehalem-based CPU built for a broader range of mainstream notebooks. Only now, because Intel has made the shift from 45nm to 32nm manufacturing, these Mobile Core i7, Core i5, and Core i3 CPUs actually belong to the Westmere generation.

Massive integration, including a graphics core, memory controller, and PCI Express controller in a separate 45nm die on the processor package, means the rest of Intel’s platform gets significantly simpler. Gone is the northbridge with which we’re all familiar, replaced by a very southbridge-like platform controller hub. Everything else is built into the CPU.

As a result, the consumption of these Arrandale processors is on-par with Intel’s previous mobile offerings. However, the whole platform should actually be more power-friendly than anything we’ve ever seen before from the company.

In reality, a bias toward performance via Hyper-Threading, Turbo Boost, and a dynamic graphics clock keeps these CPUs closer to their TDPs, so you actually get less battery life per available watt-hour of energy. We’re nevertheless still comfortable, based on our average power measurements and PCMark Vantage chart, saying that Arrandale boasts the best balance between desktop-class speed and true mobile usability we’ve ever seen.

Of course, realizing that balance means utilizing Arrandale’s 32nm Hillel CPU and 45nm Ironlake graphics core, so you’ll give up discrete graphics if you’re really serious about mobility (and in the process give up the ability to do much in 3D at all, despite the core’s increased complexity and DirectX 10 compatibility). Fortunately, it remains a solid engine for video playback, accelerating all three of the Blu-ray standard’s codecs, supporting multi-channel LPCM audio output over HDMI, and facilitating bitstreaming of Dolby TrueHD / DTS-HD MA should you use your notebook for playback in a home theater.

While we might not have been bowled over by Clarkdale on the desktop (especially in light of compelling competition at the $200 price point of Intel’s Core i5-661 sample), Arrandale is significantly more attractive. So long, Core 2 Duo. The wheels of progress keep on spinning, and Arrandale is playing you out.

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