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Latest quad-core chips creep into consumer desktops

Processors boasting lower power and more transistors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are being added to PCs from Hewlett-Packard and Gateway.

Quad-core processors boasting lower power and packing more transistors are arriving at mass-market retail.

HP Pavilion Slimline desktop s3430f uses a low-power AMD quad-core processor
HP Pavilion Slimline desktop s3430f uses a low-power AMD quad-core processor Hewlett-Packard

These latest chips from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel are now populating consumer desktops from Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, among other prominent PC makers. What makes them different? Intel's are made on a 45-nanometer process, and AMD's run at a lower power.

First up: AMD and its new power-sipping quad-core 9100e Phenom. HP is now offering its space-saving Slimline Pavilion desktop with the 9100e, which draws only 65 watts. Typically, quad-core processors draw 95 watts or higher. Intel's popular Q6600, for example, has a thermal envelope rated at 105 watts.

The HP s3430f system also packs 4GB of PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM memory, a 500GB (7200 rpm) Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk drive, and an Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT graphics processor. The system is priced at $999 at Best Buy.

Next up, Intel's Core 2 Quad Q9xxx series of 45nm quad-core processors. Although the Q9550, Q9450, and Q9300 CPUs were announced at the beginning of January, they were delayed, pushing back availability in the distribution channel until mid-March.

One reason for the long delay was stated explicitly by Intel CEO Paul Otellini at his company's first-quarter 2008 earnings conference call earlier this month.

"The bulk of our 45-nanometer output starts out in servers, moves to mobile, then moves to desktop," he said. In other words, desktops have last dibs on 45nm parts. There were also rumors about motherboard compatibility problems for all three chips.

Whatever the case, the processors are now offered on select consumer systems from HP and Gateway, among other PC vendors. The Q9550 (2.83GHz) and Q9450 (2.66GHz) integrate 12MB of cache (versus 8MB for older Intel quad-core chips) and attach to a 1,333MHz front-side bus. The Q9300 (2.5GHz) has 6MB of cache. All have a thermal envelope of 95W.

The HP Pavilion Ultimate d4999t series--with a Q9550 processor, 3GB of DDR2-800MHz dual-channel SDRAM memory, an Nvidia GeForce 8400 graphics card (256MB), and a 500GB 7200 SATA hard disk drive--is priced at $1,259.

Gateway offers a FX7026 tower system with a Q9300 processor for $1,099 at Best Buy.