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Power Play

Intel had a lot to talk about at IDF this time around, but for me the most important statement came from Pat Gelsinger during his keynote address. Gelsinger was talking about the new Core Microarchitecture and said that the forthcoming Conroe chip was “The best processor that we have ever built” – bold words, even for a man as evangelical about his technology as Gelsinger. So what is it about Conroe that makes it so special?

Power efficiency is key to Intel’s new strategy and the new Core Microarchitecture chips represent a major step towards CPUs that provide serious power but don’t draw serious power. The technology behind the Core Microarchitecture has evolved from Intel’s mobile chips, which is a little funny since myself and several other technology journalists have been lobbying for the use of the Pentium M chip in desktop systems for some time now. With the latest Core Duo mobile chips, the idea of a mobile processor in a desktop machine became even more compelling – which is probably why I recently game my wife a Core Duo equipped Apple iMac for her birthday.

But with the new Core Microarchitecture chips I won’t have to keep whining about putting a mobile CPU in my desktop. According to the slides in Justin Rattner’s keynote, Conroe provides a 40 per cent performance increase coupled with a 40 per cent reduction in power draw compared to the current Pentium D. But even more impressive is Intel’s claims for the new Woodcrest server chip with an 80 per cent increase in performance and a 35 per cent drop in power compared to a 2.8GHz Xeon.

Of course the need for minimal power draw is painfully obvious with a mobile chip, where battery life is often more important than raw performance, but battery life isn’t an issue with a desktop system. What is important with a desktop system is heat and noise, and the less power that the CPU draws, the less heat it will produce and ultimately the less noise that will be made by the cooling solution. Anything that makes a PC quieter, without making it slower has to be a good thing in my book – a bit like that iMac in fact.

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