Intel’s i7

SAN FRANCISCO – Intel’s recent launch of its Core i7 processor has altered Moore’s Law.

The simple 1965 observation made by Intel co-founder George Moore that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years is more complicated today.

The new i7 chip doesn’t have twice the number of transistors of the previous versions. In fact it has fewer, doing more with less, constricted by the physical limitations of how small a transistor can be in today’s competitive nano-technology manufacturing.

Intel’s 45-nanometre technology for example, can cram more than 2,000 transistors in the width of a human hair and the chip giant is already gearing up to pack even more transistors in the same space using 32 nm manufacturing.

"It’s not the transistor count that makes this next-generation chip faster today, but the whole chip architecture environment these CPUs (central processing units) work in," said Pat Geslinger, senior vice-president and co-general manager of Intel Corporation’s Digital Enterprise Group, referring to the new connection between processor and motherboard.

"This makes them the best desktop processors on the planet."

The Core i7 family of chips, available to consumers from $400 to $1,396, has been in the works for the past five years.

They pack intelligent technologies under the hood for faster performance than previous processors, outperforming by an average of 20 per cent.

How?

– Quad-core processing with, count them, eight threads. It’s like having as many processors that can all work on one program or several different ones at the same time.

– Turbo-boost technology that automatically and independently "overclocks" or speeds each of the core processors as needed, slowing down after the computing task is over.

– Hyper-threading technology, missing in the previous few chip releases, is back to maximize computing efficiency and multi-tasking.

– Integrated in-chip memory controller directly accesses three rows of DDR3 1066 MHz RAM much faster.

– Smart cache additional levels of memory, especially the 8 MB L3 cache on the CPU itself, for recalling repetitive computations. By providing faster performance, all the memory becomes available for one application or many.

Previous CPUs divided this memory into two separate non-shared halves. The most powerful CPU today would be brought to its knees with no onboard cache.

But the new chip is a mix of good and bad news.

It still draws as much wattage power as previous chips, generating even more heat when working full blast. But when idle, it only draws a small fraction of electrical power. "The i7 energy consumption is based on load demand," said Intel Canada’s Cassey Tan. "We like to call it HUGI, ‘hurry up and get idle,’ getting the job done faster and settling to a low-power idle state for longer periods of time."

The Core i7 chips translate into more expensive computers. They fit on a newly designed X58 motherboard that doesn’t accept previous CPUs or their cooling fans and is devoid of traditional cabling for CD-ROM drives or floppies.

They also require additional new hardware, as well as new DDR3 RAM memory, twice as expensive as today’s consumer-brand computers.

The three i7 chips start with an "affordable" Core i7 920 2.66-GHZ, 8MB-cache $400 CPU, which translates into a $1,500 computer in Canada.

Gaming enthusiasts and professionals will lean toward the mid-level Core i7 940 2.93-GHZ, 8MB-cache $770 CPU or even pricier Core i7 EXTREME 965 3.2-GHZ, 8MB-cache CPU for a whopping $1,396, translating into a maxed-out, souped-up $5,000 PC, plus monitor, from Dell.ca.

Local specialty stores can deliver a well-balanced i7 package for less than $2,200 in four to five days. In comparison, the average consumer desktop PC sells for less than $1,000.

Vendors on hand at the San Francisco i7 launch were impressed with the chip’s worthiness. Organic Motion Inc. turned heads with a live three-dimensional demonstration of 14 video cameras tracking a real person’s movements which were instantly mimicked by computer-generated characters onscreen.

Is this chip technology for you? The short answer is no.

Even Intel claims the new chips are being marketed to professionals and game players, but bragging rights clearly belong to Intel, currently outpacing competitor AMD, whose only competitive edge today is price-slashing.

If you want bragging rights, too, like being able to play smooth-looking 3D games sharper than the best HD video game consoles, you can have it all — for a price.

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