Cheaper chips in store as Intel speeds up Core Duo

Intel's new Core Duo microprocessors, which are currently selling well in both PCs and Macs, are to be superseded.

Intel's new Core Duo microprocessors, which are currently selling well in both PCs and Macs, are to be superseded.

Intel is now launching its more powerful 64-bit Core 2 Duo range, and these are expected to dominate the Intel part of the market by the end of the first quarter of 2007.

This is bad news for Intel's main rival, AMD. The company has had a good run recently, but Core 2 Duo chips could change that.

Firstly, according to tests conducted in the US, Intel's new chips are faster than AMD's, and are setting record benchmarks. Secondly, Intel is doing some brutal price-cutting.

The new chips are aggressively priced, and some old chips are going to be marketed very cheaply to make room for them.

None of this is unexpected. Computer Weekly described the new line up of three processor designs - code-named Merom for notebooks, Conroe for desktops and Woodcrest for servers - last August. But the speed with which Intel has moved forward is impressive, particularly in the fast-growing notebook PC market.

The development started with the Israel-designed Banias (Pentium M) chip used in the first wireless Centrino notebook platform, codenamed Carmel, which was launched in 2003. That was replaced by the Dothan chip and the Sonoma platform in January 2005, then Sonoma was replaced by the Yonah (Core Duo) chip and the Napa platform just a year later.

Merom (Core 2 Duo) chips will start to appear in a revised Napa platform in the next few weeks, and then in the next-generation Santa Rosa platform early next year.

Companies that want notebook PCs at rock-bottom prices will be able to buy Sonoma models with Pentium M processors. Though technically obsolete, these are fine for running Windows 2000 or XP. Companies that want to invest in the next generation could wait for Merom/Santa Rosa notebooks running 64-bit Windows Vista.

But since both the platform and the operating system are unfinished technologies, they probably will not be available before the end of the financial year - April 2007.

Intel certainly needs a turnaround. On 19 July, it announced financial results for its latest quarter, and the best headline its local paper could devise said "not as bad as feared". Intel's sales fell by 13% to £4.5bn, and profits plunged by 57% from to £480m, compared with the same quarter last year.

Intel is already "terminating" 1,000 managers and more cuts could follow.

A new power-efficient AMD-beating 64-bit architecture could revive the company's fortunes.

Jack Schofield is computer editor at The Guardian

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