New Intel Core I7 Extreme Edition chip cracks 3GHz barrier

Intel has started shipping 21 new processors for laptops and desktops, including a new Core i7 chip with a base clock speed of 3GHz, a new high for the company's mobile processors based on the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture.

The quad-core Core i7-3940XM Extreme Edition chip replaces the Core i7-3920XM, which operated at a clock speed 2.9GHz, according to a price list published Sunday. The new chip is priced at US$1,096 in quantities of 1,000, the same price as its predecessor.

Extreme Edition mobile chips are used mostly in gaming laptops and represent the fastest performance offered by Intel mobile processors. Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices typically crank up clock speeds on chips in order to claim the performance crown.

Depending on applications, higher clock speeds could boost performance, and clock speeds could go up as chips shrink and leakage is reduced, said Jim McGregor, founder of consulting firm Tirias Research.

But adding clock speed leads to chips consuming more power, which hurts laptop battery life, McGregor said. A very limited audience of users such as gamers need that sort of performance, and for better performance-per-watt chip makers are instead adding cores, a practice that has been going on for about a decade now.

"Once we got into multicores, the frequency really becomes less of an issue," McGregor said.

However, there is still some obsession among users around the importance of clock speeds to boost chip performance, McGregor said.

"We're still fixated on the gigahertz or the number of cores because we are simplistic consumers and we need numbers. But it doesn't matter that much," McGregor said.

The new Ivy Bridge chips have a feature called Turbo Boost, in which clock speeds in cores could scale up or down depending on the performance needed. The feature, also present on the Core i7-3940XM Extreme Edition chip, is mainly intended to provide just the right amount of performance needed for specific applications.

Intel also boosted the clock frequency for the Core i7 processors used in thin-and-light and mainstream laptops. The new quad-core Core i7 3840QM operates at a base clock speed of 2.8GHz, which is a new high compared to the previously fastest Core i7-3820QM chip, which runs at a clock speed of 2.7GHz. Both the chips have a price of $568.

The company also started shipping new Core i3 and i5 Ivy Bridge processors for desktops, and dual-core Sandy Bridge Celeron processors for low-power laptops.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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