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Intel demos 2nd-gen Sandy Bridge CPUs at CES

2nd Generation Intel Core lineup could replace separate graphics processors and is key to streaming copy-protected HD movies, Intel tells reporters in Las Vegas.

Intel compares chip performance at CES 2011.
Intel compares chip performance at CES 2011. James Martin/CNET

Intel unveiled its long-awaited new line of desktop and laptop CPUs at its press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show today in a demonstration that positioned them as a way to handle high-quality video and gaming without a separate processor.

The processor lineup known as Sandy Bridge, which the company is now calling 2nd Generation Intel Core, boosts performance by grafting the graphics chip onto the CPU. It means hardware makers, especially for budget PCs, won't have to implant a separate graphics processor from rivals Advanced Micro Devices or Nvidia.

"It's about user experience, but you also need performance," Shmuel "Mooly" Eden, an Intel vice president, told reporters at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He said Sandy Bridge is 69 percent faster than older Intel chips. (See earlier CNET coverage and technical details.)

Intel CEO Paul Otellini introduces the company's Sandy Bridge processors at CES 2011. James Martin/CNET

Eden showed off a series of demonstrations that highlighted the processors' ability to do speedy video format conversions, render complicated graphics in Valve's forthcoming Portal 2 game, and play a slew of instantly resizeable video clips simultaneously.

One feature of Sandy Bridge could prove to be controversial: the digital rights management, or DRM, functions embedded deep within the CPU.

Eden said that implanting anti-copying technology was necessary for movie studios to allow films to be sent to PCs at the same time they're released in cinemas. The studios need to feel comfortable, he said, that there is a "secure link" between their servers and home PCs.

Warner Brothers, Fox, and several Bollywood studios are on board to "enable this great content to be streamed to the PC early in its release," Eden said.

Kevin Tsujihara, a Warner Bros. executive vice president, showed up at Intel's event to say that studios historically have been reluctant to place their "high-value content" into a PC format, an apparent reference to frequent pirating of new releases.

"We now are going to put our content out earlier," Tsujihara said, without elaborating.

Because the so-called Intel Insider technology relies on hardware, not software, Intel has shied away from using the term DRM, which tends to be a sore point for hackers and open-source enthusiasts. In a blog post yesterday, the company described it as "an armored truck carrying the movie from the Internet to your display, it keeps the data safe from pirates, but still lets you enjoy your legally acquired movie in the best possible quality."

Intel also demonstrated Best Buy's Cinemanow service, showing the movie Inception streaming in high definition--as long as you have a Sandy Bridge PC.

Manufacturers have started to announce just that. Hewlett-Packard this week said some Pavilion Elite desktops would receive the Sandy Bridge CPU after news leaked last month about upcoming Pavilion dv7 laptops also equipped with the processor. Toshiba said today that its newly updated laptop lineup will also be Sandy Bridge-equipped.

CNET's Tom Krazit contributed to this report.