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Inside Mobile Penryn

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It's hard to remember a time when Intel wasn't utterly dominant in the mobile computing space. Despite some effort from the likes of AMD if you're after optimum performance from your lappy, Intel is the only option worth considering. This isn't necessarily a good thing and we'd prefer some healthy competition, but despite its domination Intel has continued to deliver the goods, with each generation consistently delivering superior performance on all counts.

It's in the spirit of progress that Intel has updated its mobile processor offerings, adding 45nm Penryn chips to replace the 65nm Merom CPUs that have supplied the market so admirably up until now. It's the 'tock' in Intel's well documented tick-tock strategy, which sees it produce a current architecture on an updated process, enabling it to perfect the new process and squeeze more life out of an existing architecture before launching a new one. Obviously Merom will still be around for a while, though, likely filling in the budget end of the market as Penryn becomes more widely available.
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As for Penryn, this move to a smaller process means processors that are smaller, cooler and more efficient and that can be clocked to higher frequencies. They also allow for more L2 Cache, which can have a significant effect on performance in many scenarios. Another probable benefit is an improvement in battery life, which is something we'll be looking into a little later.

First, though, let's take a look at the vital statistics of these latest CPUs:
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Ignoring the Extreme Edition X9000 for a moment, the new Penryn mobile Core 2 Duos can be split into two, with the value offerings of the T8000 series and the more performance focussed T9000 series. Both share the same 35W TDP and 800MHz Front Side Bus of the Merom processors they're replacing, but tweak the clock speeds and amounts of L2 Cache. Thus, with the T8000s you get 3MB L2 Cache and with the T9000s, 6MB.

Though this current range has a nice balance to it we must question the logic in the T8300 and T9300 having a mere 100MHz frequency difference. If the retail price difference is noticeable there seems little reason why you'd pay for the extra 100MHz and 3MB cache, but if it isn't the opposite equally applies. Much the same can be said of the difference between the 2.5GHz T9300 and the 2.6GHz T9500. Indeed, in this instance the difference is just the 100MHz frequency, while initial pricing seems to indicate that the price difference between the T9300 the T9500 is quite marked.

As such, we reckon that the best performance/value offering currently is the T9300, though the T8300 and T8100 may also be worth closer inspection depending on your budget. Still, until we get a good look at the whole range it's hard to tell how performance will stack up and we'd bet on Intel introducing a few new iterations given time.

Slotting in above these offerings is the obligatory Extreme Edition, the X9000. As with previous Extreme Edition mobile CPUs this can be overclocked, though the stock clock sits at 2.8GHz with an 800MHz Front Side Bus, 6MB L2 Cache and a slightly more toasty 44W TDP. Naturally this option will be very expensive and though overclocking is a neat novelty in a laptop, we remain unconvinced of the need for it in this arena.

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