Intel releases first Nehalem chip for mainstream PCs

The first Core i5 chip will be targeted at mainstream desktops

A year after its launch, Intel is pushing the Nehalem microarchitecture into mainstream PCs with the release of its first Core i5 chip on Tuesday.

The Core i5-750 is a quad-core processor aimed at desktop PCs where multimedia is a priority. It is the first chip based on the Nehalem design that will be aimed at PCs priced for the mainstream. Nehalem boasts improvements that make it faster and more power-efficient than its predecessors.

The first Nehalem chips were Core i7 processors introduced last November, which went into desktops priced from around US$1,700 and aimed at gamers and other high-performance users. Earlier this year Intel launched Xeon server chips based on the same architecture.

The Core i5-750 runs at 2.66GHz and has 8MB of cache. It draws 95 watts of power and is priced at $196 when bought in volume.

The performance gains from the chip could be enough reason for people to upgrade their PCs, said principal analyst Dean McCarron at Mercury Research. Nehalem was a significant architectural upgrade for Intel, and it usually takes a year for a chip maker to bring new technology to mainstream audiences.

Nehalem integrates a memory controller onto the chip to provide a faster access path to memory. Current mainstream chips have a memory controller on the chipset. Nehalem also provides a faster pipe for the CPU to communicate with system components like a graphics card.

The new chip doesn't support Nehalem's full capabilities, however. The architecture can run two threads per core, but the chip released Monday has only one enabled. "We provide a range of capabilities with our processors at different price points," an Intel spokesman said via e-mail.

The chip is being manufactured using the 45-nanometer process. Its launch comes just a few weeks ahead of the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), where Intel is expected to shed some light on chips manufactured with the more advanced 32-nm process. Intel will start manufacturing 32-nm chips for mainstream desktops and laptops by the end of the year.

Intel also launched two new quad-core Core i7 chips for high-end systems on Monday. They are the Core i7-870, which runs at 2.93GHz, and the Core i7-860, which runs at 2.8GHz. Both have 8MB caches. The Core i7-870 is priced at $562 and the Core i7-860 at $284.

The company also introduced new Nehalem-based Xeon server chips at speeds ranging from 1.86GHz to 2.93GHz, priced from $189 to $589 in volume.

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