Intel has been sitting pretty as the producer of the fastest CPUs in the world ever since it launched Core 2 back in mid 2006. No matter what AMD has done to catch up, Intel has always been one step ahead, leaving AMD to compete on value alone. This was no less true when Intel launched its Core i7 900 (Bloomfield) CPUs last November (blimey, that's nearly a year ago now) and opened up the performance gap even further. However, this time Intel made what could be interpreted as a few mistakes.
For a start, these new CPUs used a new socket so required a new motherboard. In itself this wasn't too big of a deal as every now and then such changes are required. However, the X58 chipset that these boards were based on was very expensive so combined with a minimum £200 for the CPUs themselves, it made for a very costly upgrade. Add in the fact that the vast majority of people simply didn't need such powerful hardware and we found little reason to actually recommend investing in this platform, especially as AMD offered a much more affordable and smooth upgrade path.
Of course, this wasn't really a major problem for Intel as it could rely on its Penryn generation of Core 2 CPUs that were still going strong in the value and mainstream market. However, we knew this platform was having its last hurrah as no more CPUs would be released for it, so again it left space for AMD to easily compete.
Now, though, Intel has finally launched new processors based on the architectural improvements present in Core i7 900 but with a few changes that bring the cost of the chips down to a more sensible level. Perhaps more importantly, these CPUs will be accompanied by a new chipset that is set to cost considerably less than X58, making the overall system cost lower as well. So, if you've been waiting to upgrade your ailing Core 2 Duo system and haven't been tempted away by AMD or couldn't stomach forking out £350 just for a CPU and motherboard then this looks set to be the platform for you.
These new CPUs, collectively codenamed Lynnfield, will come under the Core i7 800 and Core i5 700 brand names while the chipset is to be known as P55. Specifically, today sees the launch of three new CPUs; Core i7 870, Core i7 860 and Core i5 750 and these will have nominal rated speeds of 2.93GHz, 2.8GHz, and 2.66GHz respectively. Pricing will no doubt fluctuate considerably over the next couple of months but official launch prices are £339, £174, and £122 (converted directly from US dollar prices). Sadly, current prices in the UK are quite a bit higher at £439, £226, and £159. All told, these aren't exactly bargain basement prices but they're a damn sight more affordable than Bloomfield chips. The Core i5 750, in particular looks set to be a steal, assuming it overclocks reasonably well.
As for motherboard prices, well they're not quite as cheap as we hoped they might be. We've spoken to a number of manufacturers and it seems like the lowest price models will be around the £100 mark while top end models will push £200. These are still much more competitive prices than X58 boards, which started at £150 and went well passed £300, but if you were hoping for an ultra budget model then you'll have to wait for prices to drop.
So that's the broad picture but before we get to testing and drawing any conclusions, let's take a look at some of the technological changes Intel has made with Lynnfield.