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I still remember the strange looks I used to get from my friends, when I told them I had a computer with two processors. Yet now, PC World is advertising the benefits of Core Duo architecture on nationwide television. Granted it has cringe-worthy references such as “RAM Memory” (Random Access Memory Memory apparently...) and I don't think it explains the benefits of multi-cores properly, but it's an odd feeling to have the masses running what used to be reserved for high end workstations and servers.
Core 2 Duo has been one of the most important launches for Intel in quite some time, really taking back the Desktop market by storm. Yet, even when I was in Germany at a pre-launch briefing of Conroe/Core 2 Duo, Intel suggested that quad core wasn't far off either. In fact, the computer being used for the PowerPoint presentation, was in fact Kentsfield – Intel's code name for its quad core processor. Not particuarly good use of resources, but an excellent demonstration of the state of play.
November has come around, and true to Intel's word, quad-core is here. It seems like only yesterday we were marvelling at the first dual-core solutions, so to have a “quad-core” processor in front of me, seems almost surreal. However, in actuality, this isn't as much of a technological feat as you might think. Eighty cores, as demonstrated at IDF, is...
Above you can see what Kentsfield looks like, before the heat spreader is put on top. This is a very telling picture, as what you can see is two completely separate dies. Conroe is a single die, but two cores working intelligently together, sharing cache and getting things done in an efficient manner.
As you can see above, Intel has basically taken two Core 2 Duo dies and just put them in to one package. I think Intel realises that this is cheating a little and that's why the product name is Core 2 Extreme QX6700, which apart from the subtle “Q”, doesn't mention quad anywhere in the name. This is an Extreme Edition processor, so is naturally expensive, initially priced at $999. This isn't far off the current price of an Core 2 Extreme X6800 (£643), so in comparison, it's pretty good value.
Technically speaking, the fact the cores are in the same package is irrelevant. In order for data to be communicated between the two dies, the data needs to go through the North Bridge, via the Front Side Bus. Essentially, it means the performance will be identical to having two separate processors in two separate sockets.
Intel's approach does have its benefits though. For one, by having all four cores in the same package, there is only one heatsink. Any boards that currently support Core 2 Duo, will support Kentsfield as well. In saying that, we had to update the BIOS on our Gigabyte 965P motherboard, in order to get it to boot. It also makes designing a decent motherboard a lot easier and means we can expect to see quad-core hitting the MicroATX platform.