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Good-bye, Pentium--hello, Core 2 Duo

Eager to close the books on the Pentium era, Intel and PC makers are rolling out dozens of systems based on the new chips.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Intel officially closed the books on the Pentium era on Thursday with the Core 2 Duo, its most important product launch in 13 years.

"This is not just an incremental change; this is a revolutionary leap," Intel CEO Paul Otellini said at a launch event here, held in a heavily air-conditioned tent. The last time the company held such an event at its headquarters was when it introduced the Pentium processor in 1993, a similarly important milestone in its history.

Intel Core 2 Duo launch

Back then, the PC market was a fraction of its current size, Otellini said. Pentium quickly became one of the computer industry's most recognized brands, albeit in a much different competitive environment.

The Core 2 Duo launch comes as Advanced Micro Devices narrows the gap between the two companies with better-performing products for desktops and servers. At the same time, the PC industry is searching for a boost after a bad financial quarter and yet another delay in the launch of Microsoft's Windows Vista update.

However, Intel thinks it's back. Early reviews of the Core 2 Duo have been stellar, and the chipmaker has accumulated more design wins for the new processors than for any other new processor in its history, Otellini said.

The Core 2 Duo is based on Intel's Core microarchitecture, an offshoot of its work over the last decade to shift away from chasing clock speed as the holy grail of performance. Simply put, chips based on the Core microarchitecture do more work per clock cycle. Intel designers changed the way instructions move through the processor and developed a more sophisticated cache memory design to improve its performance and alleviate the inefficiencies of its front-side bus, or the link between the processor and the main memory.

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Video: Intel makes Core 2 Duo official
CNET's Neha Tiwari speaks with Sean Maloney, executive vice president of Intel, about the launch of the new processor.

The results put Intel's older Pentium-class processors to shame, when measuring both performance and power consumption. They also outperform AMD's currently available processors, according to a wide variety of reviews.

Two classes of Core 2 Duo processors were released Thursday. PCs based on the Core Extreme processor are available immediately. However, "Extreme" is an appropriate description for both the performance and price of those systems, and they are only appropriate for the deep-pocketed performance-starved user. Mainstream systems at more affordable prices will start to appear in early August, Otellini said.

Pentium D processors aren't going away just yet. Hewlett-Packard, for one, plans to have only 20 percent to 25 percent of its desktops fitted with the Core 2 Duo by the end of the year. Intel slashed prices on older Pentium D and single-core Pentium 4 chips on Thursday, in some cases up to 60 percent.

But the chipmaker is moving aggressively to get the new chips out to its partners, Otellini said. When it launched the first Pentium processor, it took the company a year to ship 1 million processors. It should reach that mark with the Core 2 Duo in seven weeks, he said.