Intel's 45 nm Penryn CPU: 4 GHz Air Cooled

Conclusion: Less Noise, More Efficiency, More Speed and More Overclocking Potential

We at Tom's Hardware try to be very frugal when it comes to using superlatives, but our first review sample of the new Core 2 Extreme QX9650 based on the Penryn architecture proves that Intel has done a good, nay great, job. The new quad-core processors that will soon be available now lead the ranks of the most energy efficient processors. An idle power consumption of merely 3.78 W is an extraordinary achievement for a high-end processor. Even AMD's entry-level Semprons can't match that - and they have only a single core.

The thermal dissipation of these processors has dropped so dramatically that new systems based on the Penryn will be quieter and easier to cool even when overclocked. We can say without reservation that Intel kept the promise it made at the IDF regarding the overclocking potential of its 45 nm parts. The Penryn's potential is classes beyond that of the previous Core 2 generation.

Incorporating High-K Metal Gate technology into the fabrication process enabled Intel to improve on the already very good Core 2 (Conroe) processor, making it much more energy efficient while at the same time giving it more overclocking headroom. With the new SSE4 instruction set, this generation of processors can accelerate upcoming video editing applications by at least 40%. At the same clock speed, the QX9650 is faster Compare Prices on Core 2 Extreme QX9650 than its predecessor, the QX6850. The Penryn-based Core 2 CPU is not just a simple die-shrink, it is a completely new CPU, from the transistors up.

As always, the Extreme Edition comes with the extreme price tag of €1000. Potential buyers looking for cheaper models with lower clock speeds will have to wait until next year, as those are set to become available in the first quarter of 2008.

The performance gap between Intel and AMD has widened even further. Now, the top models of the two big players are separated by almost 50%. Currently, AMD is completely unable to respond; the IT world is still waiting with bated breath for AMD's first quad-core desktop part, the Phenom, which is slated for release in December. Meanwhile, Intel is already waving goodbye to its first generation of quad-core parts and launching the next. AMD has to achieve nothing short of a technological miracle if it wants draw level with Intel in only one step. Even the tri-core parts, essentially quad-cores with a defective or disabled fourth core, are also nowhere to be seen.

In theory, we could have used AMD's 4x4 platform for this comparison, as it also consists of four cores, albeit in two individual sockets. Such a system, consisting of two Athlon X2 FX 74 processors and a motherboard, costs only €880. However, we ended up deciding against this platform in order to concentrate on single-socket, mass market systems.

Taking a closer look at the current Penryn core, an eight-core system seems feasible. Using the upcoming 3 MB versions, Intel could easily combine four dual-core chips into a single CPU package. Even the power dissipation would remain within the specified limits.

A 45 nm eight-core CPU is entirely feasible.

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