Penryn packs bigger punch while saving power

Penryn packs bigger punch while saving power

Intel's 45nm processors match up to current top end chips on low power consumption and fast processing

Intel’s first 45nm processors match the performance of current top-end chips at a lower level of power consumption and with faster media processing, according to tests.

Moreover, the Penryn chips, which make their debut today, have the headroom for higher clock speeds and better performance in future releases.

The first releases from Intel’s Penryn processor family consist of the quad-core Xeon 5400 series and Core 2 Extreme QX9650 desktop chips, plus the dual-core Xeon 5200 series.

In tests for IT Week’s sister title Personal Computer World, Incisive Media Labs found that the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 at 3GHz matched the performance of the 65nm Core 2 Extreme QX6850 at 3GHz in integer processing, and surpassed it by about nine per cent in media processing benchmarks.

However, tests also found that the new chip can be clocked at speeds up to 4GHz without requiring complex cooling, showing that Penryn family processors are capable of ramping to at least this speed in the future. Intel, however, has yet to disclose plans for official clock speeds above 3.2GHz.

The Penryn family is essentially a die-shrink of the current Core microarchitecture to a 45nm fabrication process, but also introduces a few enhancements such as the SSE4 instructions and Super Shuffle Engine designed to improve media processing. The chips also have larger L2 caches, with the quad-core parts featuring up to 12MB and dual-core parts 6MB.

Moving to a smaller process enables lower power consumption as well as higher clock speeds, and some test sites have reported that Penryn chips consume less than 4W when idle and about 73W when running at full speed, much below earlier quad-core Intel parts.

According to Peter Schrady, general manager of emerging products at Lenovo, Intel’s new chips enable high-performance systems that are also economical on power consumption.

“With graphics cards getting bigger and bigger, it becomes very important to have an efficient machine, and with our partner nVidia we now have industry-leading graphics performance as well,” Schrady said.

Lenovo said it is entering the workstation market with quad-core systems based on the new Penryn chips. Due to ship in January, the ThinkStation S10 line is single-socket and runs the Core 2 Extreme QX9650, while the ThinkStation D10 is dual-socket and based on the Xeon 5400 series.

HP also announced new xw8600 and xw6600 workstation lines using the quad-core and dual-core Xeon chips. Due to ship in December, these systems can be configured with up to 128GB memory and start from £799.

Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said Penryn had plenty of promise. “However, Intel’s next-generation Nehalem processor will be even better because that’s 45nm plus significant microarchitectural enhancements,” he added. “Barcelona wasn’t the blow-your-socks off product that AMD suggested it would be [and Intel] will likely erase any Barcelona advantage.”