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Intel Core i7 laptops coming--or have they already arrived?

Intel is slated to release its first mobile "Nehalem" processor in the coming months, but benchmark-breaking laptops are already out there with Nehalem chips inside.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Waiting for a Core i7 laptop? While Intel is slated to release its first mobile "Nehalem" Core i7 processor in the coming months, the desktop counterpart has already spawned a cottage industry of benchmark-busting laptops.

"It's completely revitalized the desktop replacement laptop," said Kelt Reeves, president of enthusiast PC maker Falcon Northwest, referring to designs that have shoehorned a desktop Core i7 processor into a laptop enclosure.

At the very high end of Falcon Northwest's lineup, interest has shifted to models with the Core i7 processor and away from models oriented around extreme-performance graphics cards, Reeves said.

Falcon Northwest laptop can use Core i7 processors running at speeds up to 3.33GHz
Falcon Northwest laptop can use Core i7 processors running at speeds up to 3.33GHz Falcon Northwest

For instance, the Falcon Northwest FragBook DRX Core i7-based models come with Nvidia's lower-performance GeForce GTX 280M graphics processor instead of the higher-end Scalable Link Interface (SLI) technology, which uses two graphics chips. But performance has actually improved in many cases, Reeves said.

"It's a much better balance of a very-high-powered CPU and a very-high-powered graphics card," he said.

Only at the highest settings in popular games like Crysis and World in Conflict did laptops using older Intel Core 2 processors with SLI graphics offer any competition to the Core i7 models, according to Reeves.

AVADirect Clevo D900F Core i7 laptop: a lot of processing power means a lot of fans (count 'em: 4)
AVADirect Clevo D900F Core i7 laptop: a lot of processing power means a lot of fans (count 'em: 4) CNET Reviews

But it may be too charitable to call these laptops. Sheer size and heat dissipation requirements almost defy laptop categorization. "There's a huge set of heat pipes and copper cooling fins and fans needed to duct out all that power," Reeves said.

Falcon Northwest is not the only company selling large luggable, heat-spewing laptops. CNET Reviews looked at the AVADirect Clevo D900F Core i7 laptop with the same Nvidia graphics processor and said that "the D900F handily topped all of the other performance laptops we've tested. Its processing results were more on par with the Alienware Area-51 X58 gaming desktop (using a 3.2GHz Intel Core i7 chip)."

Smooth Creations and CyberPower, among others, also offer laptops based on the Core i7 processor.

So when will the real deal appear? The first processor designated officially as a Nehalem mobile processor from Intel is expected to emerge by October. Code-named Clarksfield, it will be a quad-core processor, like the current desktop i7, but not impose the kind of thermal stress on the laptop enclosure that the current i7 does. Clarksfield is expected to have a thermal envelope (referred to as Thermal Design Power) that is below half of the current i7, which is rated at 130 watts for the highest-end processor.

Benchmark results for the Falcon Northwest Core i7 laptop are here.