Intel's 2010 Clarkdale desktop CPUs: what to expect

Intel is readying its first-ever 32-nanometer CPUs, but what are you actually getting in this latest Nehalem die-shrink?

Clarkdale to Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad (and the North Bridge): Hasta la Vista, baby.

Intel's latest processor iteration has taken the shrink-ray to its Nehalem architecture, wrapping the company's first 32-nanometer CPU in a brand new name (Westmere) and integrating a brand-new graphics die onto the processor.

But don't hold your breath for a perfect all-in-one package just yet: While the new Core i3 and Core i5 Clarkdale chips support a host of new options for Blu-Ray enthusiasts and casual graphics aficionados (crank those Windows 7 Aero details, connect multiple monitors, and run picture-in-picture on your Blu-ray discs), Clarkdale still delivers little to help more advanced gaming scenarios.

Upcoming Chips: What's In It For You?

First, know that Clarkfield represents a total of seven new CPU variants: Four in the Core i5 series, two of the first Core i3 CPUs, and one Pentium G6950 entry-level variant. The prices and frequencies range from the $87, 2.8-GHz Pentium G6950 to the $284, 3.46-GHz Core i5-670. If you take a look at the load-out versus current Lynnfield-based CPUs (Core i7 800-series and Core i5-700 series processors), you might think you've entered into that ol' faster-dual-core-or-slower-quad-core war from years past. You haven't.

Clarkdale CPUs offer better performance for a better price than all but the most costly Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors (the Penryn family). However, just because they also sport faster speeds than their Lynnfield cohorts -- including the "turbo clock" overclocked Core i5-600 series -- doesn't mean that they're speedier CPUs in general. A 3.33-GHz Core i5-661 Intel test platform (using Intel's new DH55TC motherboard) fell slightly shy of the WorldBench 6 scores from similarly-configured Lynnfield desktop systems that we've reviewed recently. However, it did overtake the scores of all stock-clocked Core i7-920 systems -- a 45nm Bloomfield processor.

Compatibility

Four chipsets (all using the LGA 1156 socket) are compatible with the Clarkdale platform: the H55, H57, Q57, and standard Lynnfield P55-based motherboards. Here's where it gets interesting. H55, H57, and Q57-based boards are identical in their overall construction, with each offering a new subset of Intel features as you go up the price range. H57-based motherboards can support two additional USB ports, two extra PCI Express x1 lanes, and support for Intel's RAID-based Rapid Storage Technology. Q57 boards, more for business use, include Intel's Active Management Technology -- remote technical support. You can stick a Clarkdale processor in a P55 motherboard or, vice versa, a Lynnfield processor in an H55, H57, or Q57 motherboard. Either situation forces you to use a discrete graphics card, however.

Graphics Performance

As mentioned, integrated gaming performance isn't for tough titles. While Clarkdale systems might thrive on less demanding titles, the CPU's integrated graphics weren't enough to deliver playable frame-rates on PC World's Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark at anything but a 1024-by-768 resolution screen at medium quality settings or less. And a forewarning: the sixteen PCI Express x16 lanes supported by Clarkdale chips cannot be split into dual x8 lanes for CrossFire or SLI should you aspire to transform your Clarkdale rig into a souped-up gaming machine. Clarkdale intends to make its mark on more common computers... including those in your living room.

And if you're interested in a mobile version of Clarkdale, you'll want to check out all the details on its equivalent for notebooks, Arrandale.

When Will Clarkdale Processors Arrive?

Intel hasn't announced availability of its Clarkdale processors just yet, but the not-quite-a-rumor is that the company will be unveiling the Westmere lineup preceding CEO Paul Otellini's keynote speech at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show this Thursday.

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David Murphy

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