Intel Corporation is set to deliver the Intel Core 2 Duo, a CPU that is expected to overtake AMD's long-standing performance lead. For months now there have been speculations and early reports on how this new Core architecture could fare in this competitive processing world, but today Intel is finally delivering on their promise with its official announcement of the Core 2 Duo (Conroe). Intel's Core 2 Duo is designed to deliver breathtaking performance, and it hopes to go home with the computing crown. We will not be delivering performance numbers in this piece; the article is simply intended as a short hardware primer to meet the midnight launch. We will be delivering our Linux Intel Core 2 Duo results shortly afterward.
By now Conroe should be no mystery to any of you, considering the amount of discussion that the CPU core's codename has caused over the past months (and years for that matter). In fact, Intel had announced the Intel Core 2 processor family brand some time ago on its website, and the Spring 2006 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) had this processor on display. On the desktop side, the Allendale and Conroe XE accompany the Conroe core; the mobile derivative of the Conroe is the Merom; and the server version is called Woodcrest (announced in late June). Coming into this Core 2 primer, there two things that Intel wishes to emphasize: the energy-efficiency for both the desktop and mobile counterparts, and the new Intel Core Microarchitecture. This new microarchitecture is the ideal replacement for the infamous NetBurst Microarchitecture, which has been used since Willamette back in 2000. The new microarchitecture features wide dynamic execution, intelligent power capability, advanced smart cache, smart memory access, and advanced digital media boost. This architecture will be adopted across server, desktop, and mobile platforms.
Continuing with the Core 2 feature line-up is EM64T, VT Virtualization Technology, Execute Disable Bit, and EIST Enhanced SpeedStep Technology. Other Core 2 terms to discuss around the dinner table include LaGrande Technology, SSE4, and Active Management Technology iAMT2.
Intel's LaGrande Technology is geared to address the growing problem of software-only protection no longer being enough to provide safe compuing. LaGrande Technology (or LT for short) is designed to protect sensitive information against software-based attacks. In order to benefit from LT security you must have a supportive microprocessor, Chipset, other platform components, an LT-enabled operating system, and LT-enabled applications. The system even needs appropriate USB keyboard and mouse in order to properly secure and encrypt the keystrokes and clicks. The hardware enhancements to make this technology work involve a trusted platform module that allows the creation of multiple separated execution partitions.
SSE4, or codenamed the Tejas New Instructions (TNI), is the fourth advancement for Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE). Appended in this fourth version is an upgrade to SSE3 by adding 16 new opcodes. Intel's Active Management Technology is designed to better discover, heal, and protect networked computing assets.
What is interesting though about today's launch is that Intel is no longer pursuing the frequency race, as they had largely done in the past, but are now heavily concentrating their design efforts on other CPU features and improving the instructions-per-clock. In fact, a Core Duo 2.66GHz (E6700) should easily remain competitive against the AMD Athlon 64 FX-62. The processors that will become available at this time include the 2.93GHz (X6800), 2.66GHz (E6700), 2.40GHz (E6600), 2.13GHz (E6400), and 1.86GHz (E6300). All of these new processors boast a 1066MHz FSB and possess 4MB of shared L2 cache. This is unlike the current AMD and Intel implementation, which has independent Level 2 cache reserves per core. Instead, the Conroe now is able to share the L2 cache between the two cores.
While AMD had recently unveiled Socket AM2, Intel is continuing to stand by their LGA-775 Socket T design, and we do not expect it to fade away quite so soon. However, these new processors unfortunately aren't inherently compatible with all of Intel's Pentium D Chipsets, but they are compatible with many of the more recent 975X motherboards (mainly those manufactured post April 2006) and the much discussed 965 Chipset. Going with ASRock's usual innovations, their talented engineers have already developed two motherboards -- the ConRoe945PL-GLAN and ConRoeXFire-eSATA2 -- both of which use the Intel 945P Chipset. Also, years ago we would never have seen a NVIDIA Chipset power an Intel system, but due to bus licensing, the new NVIDIA nForce Chipsets, such as the nForce 570 and 590 SLI, will support the Conroe core. Both of these Chipsets support the Core 2 Duo as well as being backward compatible with previous LGA-775 processors, DDR2-800MHz, and Scalable Link Interface (the nForce 570 SLI is limited to x8 + x8 PCI-E speeds). The NVIDIA 590 SLI also supports FirstPacket and DualNet. You can also expect a similar assortment of Conroe-supportive Chipsets from ATI and VIA. To some dismay, the Conroe-supportive desktop Chipsets have not adopted FB-DIMM (Fully Buffered Dual Inline Memory Module) support, however Woodcrest and Dempsey have done so on the server-side. As we had seen last month when previewing this technology, it is certainly able to do wonders, and hopefully within a few years it will make the bridge to desktop components.
Intel's Pentium D's have been notorious for their exuberant heat output but Conroe has changed all of this. In fact, the Intel E6700 have a heat output of 65W TDP, which is about half of the Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 965 Presler, and is substantially less than the AMD competition -- the Athlon 64 FX-62 processor. Intel has certainly taken some engineering notes from the Pentium M and Core Duo, to ultimately deliver the Core 2 Duo with an exceptional level of performance per Watt.
On another note, today's launch marks the end of the road for Intel's Pentium brand name. Conroe will be a complete replacement for both the single-core Pentium 4 and dual-core Pentium D. The prices for these beauties are anticipated to be approximately $999 - X6800, $530 - E6700, $316 - E6600, $224 - E6400, and $183 - E6300 (prices USD). Public availability of these new Chipsets should begin on July 23 to July 27.
Unfortunately, we do not have our Intel Core 2 Duo Conroe Linux numbers to share for this midnight primer, but we intend to have up some performance numbers in the very near future. When it comes to the GNU/Linux compatibility with these new Core 2 Duo components, there really should not be anything out of the ordinary. The NVIDIA nForce 500 AMD series run fine with the needed open-source modules under Linux on recent kernels, and the NVIDIA nForce 500 Intel Chipsets should offer the same compatibility. More on the compatibility information will come once we have completed all of our testing.