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Mobile Core i7-920XM: Power Is The Price For Better Performance

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If you approach Clarksfield realizing its role as a high-performance part best suited in a desktop replacement role, then you won’t be disappointed by the power it uses to beat Intel’s former flagship, the Core 2 Extreme QX9300.

I’d really love to write this conclusion and claim all of its ideas were mine. But the truth of the matter is that I’ve spend a lot of time talking to Mark Bialic, the CEO of Eurocom, over the past year, and I respect his opinion as a system builder who knows what his customers want. When he tells me that he travels all over the place and sees people on airplanes doing their computing on devices smaller than conventional notebooks (much less desktop replacements), I tend to agree.

And when he tells me that the battery on a DTR functions more like a UPS and less like a power source nowadays, I see a very valid usage model. Professionals and gamers alike tote their systems around from home to the office and to their friend’s houses, but not using them in between. Mobile platforms well-balanced with the right processor and graphics card remain important, so the fact that our samples both included GeForce GTX 260M modules turns out to be a good thing. The key here is form factor. Bloomfield-based “mobile” workstations required bulky 17” enclosures in order to keep a 130W processor cool. Mobile Core i7 enables the 15” chassis seen here, and it still brings enough performance to the table to serve at the heart of a real desktop replacement.

Granted, not everyone who buys a desktop replacement buys it for playing games. Naturally, for those folks, high-end graphics make less sense. Intel and Asus plan to send over a Clarksfield-based platform with the same powerful CPU architecture and a much more miserly graphics solution—something you might expect to find a software developer using attached to a couple of large LCDs. Once we’re able to test that configuration and compare it to what we have here, I’ll publish an update to report on Clarksfield’s behavior in an environment more attuned to the CPU’s power-saving features.

But really, the takeaway here is twofold:

First, depending on the priorities of the system builder from which you buy, expect to see Clarksfield-based notebooks at a variety of different power profiles. The CPU is one part of the equation, but it’s certainly not the determinant of efficiency in a build with discrete graphics. At the end of the day, Core i7-920XM is rated at 55W—10W higher than the flagship Core 2 Extreme—and the new CPU has more technology built-in to keep it closer to that power envelope for longer. From Hyper-Threading to Turbo Boost, you can expect better performance in a wider range of applications than any mobile processor we’ve ever seen, but at higher power consumption numbers.

Secondly, for those of you more attuned to the thin and light designs, Arrandale is the platform you’ll want to use while watching DVDs on an airplane or working away from a power outlet. That’s where the power consumption will become much more important to the platform’s success. Come January, it's going to be that much harder to make inroads against Intel's mobile lineup.

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