Intel fires up upgraded mobile Core 2 Duos

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Santa Clara (CA) – Intel today launched four new Core 2 Duo processors as part of the much anticipated “Santa Rosa” platform, which not only enhances the Centrino platform core components, but offers completely new features such as optional flash cache as well as wireless broadband capability.

To many of us, it may seem that Intel launched its Core 2 Duo T-series processors not too long ago and the Santa Rosa “update” may appear almost unnecessary. Intel still holds the unquestioned lead in the mobile market, clearly outpacing AMD’s Turion 64 X2 processor both in performance and shipments. However, the original Core 2 Duo is only two months away from its one year anniversary and in fact due for a mid-cycle upgrade. It also needs to bridge the gap until the introduction of the 45 nm shrink “Penryn”, which is scheduled to launch at the end of this year or early in 2008.

 

Santa Rosa: New processors and chipsets

Obviously, at the heart of Santa Rosa are new Socket P processors, which will be replacing the first generation Core 2 Duo T-series Socket M processors. There are four new processors in total:

In addition to the regular Core 2 Duo CPUs, Intel is also lining up two low voltage versions, the L7300 (1.4 GHZ, FSB800, 4 MB L2) and L7500 (1.6 GHz, FSB800, 4 MB), as well as a Socket P ultra low voltage model, the U7500 (1.06 GHz, FSB533, 2 MB)

Intel has four chipsets to go along with its new processors. On the high-end, there are the GM965 and PM965 versions, which are based on an enhanced ICH8M Southbridge and bring support for the 800 MHz front side bus and continue to connect to DDR2-667 or DDR2-533 memory. For lower-priced notebooks, Intel is offering the 943GML (DDR2-533/FSB533), which is based on the ICH7M Southbridge and the GL960, which includes the newer ICH8M Southbridge and support for DDR2-533 and FSB533.

The GM965 includes Intel’s graphics chipset and promises to run DirectX10 as well as Microsoft’s Windows Vista AeroGlass interface. Intel is putting more and more focus on graphics capability and recently told us that the 965GM should be about 70% faster under 3DMark05 than the preceding 945M. The 965GM successor “Cantiga”, due in 2008, promises another 25% increase. Overall, Intel plans to increase the graphics performance of its graphics chipsets by an average of 50% every year until 2010.

 

 

 

Compared to the ICH7 Southbridge, ICH8 removes support for some aging technologies such as PATA in favor of SATA. AC'97, which was touted in ICH7 as an enabler for 7.1 channel audio, is replaced in ICH8 by real-time HD audio processing capability with support for the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) via an additional SDI link.

New in the ICH8M enhanced version is the activation of Intel’s the firm's La Grande technology, now called “Trusted Execution Technology” (TXT), which will be available in business-targeted “Centrino Pro” versions of Santa Rosa. TXT follows the specifications of the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) via a trusted platform module (TPM) and will allow customers to better safeguard the information that is stored on their systems.

 

Read on the next page: Tick-tock, new features in Santa Rosa, prices

 


 

 

 

Tick-Tock: Intel’s platform/upgrade game

While Santa Rosa may appear to be an upgrade for the Core 2 Duo T-series (“Merom” core), it is far more than that. Santa Rosa will also provide the foundation for Intel’s first mobile 45 nm “Penryn”, which will ship with a Santa Rosa “refresh” platform.

Intel has begun describing its product introduction strategy as “tick-tock”, which promises to bring a new micro-architecture in even years and a refresh (shrink) in odd years: Core launched as a new architecture in 2006 with the 65 nm Merom core and will see a 45 nm update (refresh) and some upgrades with Penryn in late 2007.

 

 

 

Nehalem, a completely new architecture that will bring features such as an integrated memory controller and a version with an integrated graphics core, will launch as a 45 nm product in 2008 and get a 32 nm shrink (Westmere refresh) in 2009. Sandy Bridge will become Nehalem’s successor in 2010, if Intel can keep its aggressive schedule in place.

 

  
New features: Draft-n, flash cache, HSDPA

Gigahertz and improved graphics are one side of the story. Santa Rosa-based Centrino notebooks, however, also include the 4965AGN wireless chipset, previously code-named “Kedron”, which adds draft-n wireless capability to the platform. A chipset without draft-n support (4965AG) will remain in the portfolio and will be offered for less money. The 4965AGN is priced at $29; the 4965AG is priced at $22.

New is also the option of 512 MB or 1 GB on-board flash cache called “Turbo Memory” (code name “Robson”). The memory is used as non-volatile cache for frequently accessed files to boot Windows faster and accelerate the startup of applications. Besides the speed gains, Intel says that users may also see increased battery life in Turbo Memory notebooks as the number of hard drive spin ups is reduced.

Turbo Memory will only be offered in premium notebooks and it is unclear just how much manufacturers will charge for the luxury of a flash cache. Intel CEO Paul Otellini recently told analysts that the integration of on board flash adds about $25 to the cost of a mainboard.

Also new for the Centrino platform is the WWAN chipset 1965HSD. Wireless broadband remains a pricey feature as Intel charges system builders $185 for this chip.

Similar to the desktop platform, Intel will offer a “vPro” version of Centrino, called “Centrino Pro” for the business market. The feature set of Centrino Pro notebooks includes Intel’s 82566MM Gigabit Ethernet adapter, the 1965HSD WWAN chipset, Turbo Memory, as well as support for virtualization (VT) and an updated version of the firm’s active management technology (AMT). 

Product transition: From Napa 64 to Santa Rosa, phasing out Sonoma and Napa 32

 

The introduction of “tick-tock” will also translate into an accelerated transition from one product generation to another.

Santa Rosa already accounts for about 15% of the production of Intel platforms in the current second quarter, while Napa64 is estimated to make up almost 70% (the remainder is a mix of Napa32 (Core Duo) and Sonoma (Pentium-M) devices). Santa Rosa production is planned to expand to a share of more than 35% in the third quarter and more than 60% in Q4.

By the end of the year, 100% of Intel’s processor production will be 65 nm and 45 nm processors based on the Core micro-architecture. The company expects to begin producing more Core processors (Core T/U/L/E series, Xeon 3000, 5100, 5300) than non-Core (Pentium D, Core Duo, etc.) units by June of this year.

 

 

 

Sonoma-based Pentium-M processors with the 90 nm Dothan core are officially on their last leg. Last orders were accepted in February 2007 with shipments drying up in Q4 of this year. However, Dothan will continue a second life in the A100/A110 processor series that will be used in UMPCs and mobile Internet devices (MIDs) with reduced clock speeds of 600 and 800 MHz.

Napa32, which serves as foundation for the 65 nm Core Duo (“Yonah”), is also heading towards the end of its life. Production is ramping down fast: Last orders for Yonah will be taken at the end of this year, last CPUs are expected to ship in 2008.

Prices

Intel offers the new Santa Rosa processors at price levels slightly below the introduction prices of the preceding product generation. The flagship model T7700 sells for $530 (T7600: $637), the T7500 for $316 (T7400: $423), the T7300 for $241 (T7200: $294) and the T7100 for $209 (T5600: $241; T5500:$209).

In comparison, AMD’s Turion 64 X2 processor lineup currently starts at $154 for the 1.6 GHz TL-50 model and tops out at $263 for the 2.0 GHz TL-60. The Turion 64 X2 has begun shipping in 65 nm, but will have to hold out until its successor arrives – sometime in 2008.

All major notebook vendors have begun offering Santa Rosa notebooks today. Among the more interesting models, Lenovo has introduced the 14” T61 and R61 models. Both notebooks integrate a “top cover roll cage”, which the manufacturer says improves durability of the devices by about 20%. IBM is offering the notebooks from about $1250.