Intel's Nehalem chips, slated to ship later this month, were called "blindingly fast" by an analyst who is using an early machine running the processor.
The i7 chip is designed to be the next step up from the current generation of Core 2 Duo processors. Speculation is rife that the i7 chip will be used in the next generation of iMacs, which now seem set to appear at the Macworld Expo & Conference in January 2009.
Steve Smith, vice president and director of operations for Intel's digital enterprise group, told Macworld's sister title Computerworld US that the first Nehalem chip, officially named Core i7, will be a quad-core processor that's aimed at high-end desktops used by power users and gamers. He noted that on the day Intel officially launches the chip, several PC makers will begin shipping desktops running it.
Intel has been shipping previews of the chips to hardware vendors since September.
Rob Enderle, an analyst at the Enderle Group, said he's been test driving an Intel-built desktop running the quad-core chip with the hyper threading turned on, so it's virtually an 8-core. "It's fast. It's really fast," said Enderle. "We're talking blindingly fast."
The analyst also noted that the chip shows "significant improvement" in power efficiency. "It's very quiet and has low heat output. It's not turning my office into a sauna," he added. "A lot of people are concerned about their energy consumption. For high-performance to be energy efficient is really important."
Enderle also noted that Core i7 seems to be designed to work with Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 operating system. He said the computer Intel sent him to try out is running Windows Vista but that chip designers had specs on Windows 7 while they were developing the new chip.
"Corporations are more likely to move to Windows 7 than Vista," he added. "This would be good because it was developed with Windows 7 in mind. By the time Windows 7 ships, these chips should be in corporate and at least high-end desktops and workstations."
The Nehalem technology is a 45-nanometre, four-core processor with an integrated memory controller that eliminates the need for a front-side bus. The new architecture is modular, which officials say will make it easier to scale from two to eight cores.
The Core chips also are being designed to have two-way, simultaneous multithreading, use Intel's QuickPath interconnect, and have a three-level cache hierarchy.
Smith said an eight-core Nehalem is slated to ship in the second half of 2009, while two-core and four-core Nehalem chips for laptops should ship at about the same time.