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Intel walks us through its next-gen Core processor architecture

Intel walks us through its next-gen Core processor architecture

You may have seen several reports around the Web over the last few weeks showing the Intel-supervised benchmark results of its new Core 2 Duo desktop processors. We sat down with Intel ourselves this morning, where we received a technology overview about the new Core architecture, the foundation of both Intel's Core 2 Duo desktop and laptop chips. We were also given the chance to conduct our own Intel-chaperoned Core 2 Duo testing on an Intel setup PC. Rather than add to the flood of dubious results, we've opted to contribute to the Core 2 Duo run-up by translating Intel's take on the benefits of its new core.

Because Core 2 Duo's performance gains are not simply caused by ramped-up clock speeds, it's a little tougher to get what the big deal is. But unless you're an engineer, chip architecture discussions are boring. This in mind, Intel is trying to simplify the Core 2 Duo story by breaking out its advances into five major components. Below you'll find Intel's terms, followed by our translations:

Wide Dynamic Execution: Instead of sending data through the pipe faster, Core 2 Duo will bite off larger chunks of data to process at once. It can also combine the identical parts of different data requests. This should translate to faster overall performance.

Advanced Digital Media Boost: Every step in the multimedia processing chain is now 128-bit. They didn't used to be. Now the CPU doesn't have to translate the non-128 bit parts, saving it work and giving you faster multimedia performance.

-Smart Memory Access: Smarter traffic cop between the chip and the memory.

Advanced Smart Cache: Cache is the place where data lives between the processor and the memory. It's broken into different levels: L1, L2, and so on for balancing the amount of data stored with the speed at which the chip can get to that data. Core 2 Duo is a dual-core chip, and while each core has its own L1 cache, they share a dynamic L2 cache. So if core 1 needs only 1MB of L2, and core 2 could benefit from 3MB, Core 2 Duo chips can adjust that distribution on the fly. Old Pentium Ds and AMD's dual-core Athlons have a fixed L2 cache per core, which means no load balancing, potentially wasting L2 cache space. Translation: better performance.

Intelligent Power Capability: Intel incorporated the power management techniques of its laptop CPUs into the multiplatform Core architecture. This means a Core 2 Duo can shut off whatever parts it's not using, reducing power consumption. So, you get not only smaller heat sinks and fans (which should make DIYers lives' easier and overclockers' potentially more exciting--see our pic), it also makes room for more micro-form-factor PCs. Apple's Mac Mini and the AOpen Mini PC are just the start.

Intel did tell us when Core 2 Duo is shipping, but it also bound us to secrecy by way of an NDA. At least the date is firm, and it's in Q3 2006. Intel also said that we'd have samples for testing soon. If you're interested in what's been published around the Web, your best bet is these non-Intel-supervised results (wherein the Core 2 Duo indeed lives up to the hype) from Anandtech and Firingsquad. Anandtech's report is especially interesting because it highlights the upcoming market realities facing Intel. With lots of older chips in the channel through the end of the year, Dell and others will likely cut prices drastically to unload old supplies. Expect tempting desktop offers this holiday shopping season, along with some difficult price vs. performance choices.

Intel actually had another big revelation for us today. At the end of the Core presentation, one of the Intel-men called up Windows Task Manager's performance tab and, bam, four processing gauges danced before us. Or actually they were flatlined, since the alleged quad-core chip in the PC before us, code-named Kentsfield, was running only PowerPoint. We weren't able to verify it for ourselves, but given AMD's Socket 4x4 announcement last week, we're not surprised that Intel was eager to respond with its own multicore tech.