Review: Intel's New Quad-Core CPUs

There's a new high-end desktop chip in town--namely, Intel's Penryn family of CPUs, which are the first built on a 45nm manufacturing process developed by the chip giant. Our first WorldBench 6 tests with the new chip showed only a minor performance gain for the 45nm, 3-GHz QX9650 Core 2 Extreme versus the 65nm, 3-Ghz QX6850 Core 2 Extreme chip that it is supplanting. (See our chart "Penryn Speed: Minor Gains in Mainstream Apps," or check out our review of the first Penryn-based system we've tested, a CyberPower Power Infinity Pro.) However, none of the applications in our test suite utilize the QX9650's new SSE4 instructions, which can greatly speed up tasks such as some key operations in video encoding in apps that use SSE4. (Intel's in-house benchmarks, and the demonstrations we saw at this fall's Intel Developer Forum, back up that claim.)

Let's Get Small

For now, the real news is that the 45nm manufacturing process Intel uses for Penryn should allow the company to keep churning out superfast desktop chips for the forseeable future.

If Intel were to have its own TV show, it would probably be entitled Honey, I Shrunk the Chips. The Penryn family of CPUs, set to launch on November 12, are built on a manufacturing process that shrinks the features of the chip down to a mere 45 nanometers (or about 1/18000 the width of a human hair). That's down from the 65nm process the company has used for its current Core line and the 90nm process it used on some Pentium 4 chips. The company has already demonstrated a 32nm process that it intends to begin using to produce chips in two years.

By shrinking the size of the transistors in its chips, Intel can produce more CPUs from the same amount of silicon, or build more-complex chips in the same amount of space. For example: A Celeron 300 made in 1995 using a 250nm process measured 131 square millimeters, yet contained a mere 7.5 million transistors; a current 65nm Core 2 Duo is a scant 11 square millimeters larger but contains 291 million transistors; and the new 45nm, quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX9650 that we tested for this article measures 214 square millimeters but contains a whopping 820 million transistors.

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