First Intel Westmere 32nm reviews

Intel has lifted the embargo on reviews of its first 32nm Westmere processors, and several sites have posted results on both Arrandale laptops and Clarkdale desktops.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Intel won't announce them until later this week, but it has lifted the embargo on reviews of its first 32nm Westmere processors, and several hardware sites have posted detailed tests results on both Arrandale laptops and Clarkdale desktops (Engadget has links to many of them here). Though some reviewers complain that Intel's graphics still can't match AMD and Nvidia's discrete graphics processing units (GPUs), the Westmere delivers a significant leap in performance and features compared to the Core 2 Duos found in most mainstream laptops and desktops.

In all, Intel will release 11 Arrandale mobile chips and six Clarkdale processors, as well as four new supporting chipsets for each platform. At this point the chipset is really just a southbridge that manages I/O since the Westmere processors include both a 32nm CPU and a 45nm GPU and memory controller in the same physical package. This is Intel's second product family to integrate the GPU; the Pinetrail platform for netbooks announced on Dec. 21 also incorporates graphics, but it has a 45nm CPU (The next generation of netbooks takes shape.)

On the mobile side, the new processors range from the 2.13GHz Core i3-330M to the 2.66GHz Core i7-620M. Many mainstream laptops with 14- and 15-inch displays will use one of the Core i5 processors in the middle such as the 2.40GHz Core i5-520M. All of these are dual-core processors withHyperThreading (two threads per core) but they vary in terms of clock speed, the amount of cache and the speed of the DDR 3 memory interface. In addition, the entry-level Core i3 chips do not have Turbo mode, which boosts performance on certain applications. TheArrandales--but not the Clarkdales--also have a similar feature, called Dynamic Frequency, that temporarily increases the speed of the GPU to assist with tasks that involve 3D graphics or HD video.

All of the Arrandale reviews are based on an early version of an Asus K42F laptop with a 14-inch display, a Core i5 processor and 4GB of DDR3 memory. When it actually ships, the K42F will reportedly start at around $1,000 with the 2.40GHz Core i5-520M, 2GB of memory and a 500GB hard, which is on the high-end for a mainstream laptop, but it will also include aBlu-ray player. It sounds like Asus will also sell a version with the Core i3 starting at $730, as well as version with AMD's ATI Radeon Mobility GPUs (despite the integrated Intel GPU).

The performance difference depends on the test, of course, but in general the Arrandale processor is about 20 percent faster than comparable Core 2 Duo processors such as the 2.53GHz C2D P8700. Battery life is about the same, though. Most of the new processors are rated at 25 watts, but there are a few 18WArrandales, which should deliver better results, and at least one site also suggested that "silicon tweaks" to future Arrandales should stretch the battery life of all future Arrandales as well. Arrandale still can't match the performance of the Clarksfield quad-cores found in desktop replacements nor can it beat the battery life of Pinetrail netbooks or thin-and-lights based on ultra low-voltage chips. Instead it falls somewhere in the middle, which makes it very well-suited for its intended target of 14- and 15-inch mainstream notebooks.

The early desktop reviews are based on the $196 3.33GHz Core i5-661. As with Arrandale, these new chips are very fast, but the case for the Clarkdale is a bit more complicated because it faces a lot more direct competition from both Intel's existing 45nm Core i5 quad-core processors and AMD's Phenom II X4s--both of which cost about the same or less. But as several sites noted, the added media capabilities of the newGPU--including support for Blu-ray and dual simultaneous HDMI streams--combined with lower power consumption makes Clarkdale a good candidate for the home theater PCs. And as prices come down a bit, Clarkdales will become prevalent in mainstream desktops.

At CES, there will be numerous new systems based on Westmere (as well as Pinetrail netbooks). Stay tuned for details on these throughout the week.

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