Intel has unveiled its new Core 2 Duo processor range, increasing the pressure on rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

The ten new dual-core chips promise markedly better performance and greater energy efficiency than Intel's existing products.

The Core 2 Duo launch has been billed as Intel's most significant since the introduction of the original Pentium processor in 1993. The launch comes at a crucial moment. Intel executives have watched AMD expand its share of the processor market in recent quarters and they want to reclaim this lost ground.

"We're really bullish on Core 2 Duo and we believe that it's going to enable us to grow a significant amount of (market) share over the second half of the year. That's our goal," said Tim Bailey, director of platform marketing at Intel Asia-Pacific.

Laptop and desktop chips

Among the chips announced by Intel are five processors designed for laptops and five desktop chips, including the high-end Core 2 Extreme processor for gamers. Pricing for the desktop chips ranges from $183 for the 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo E6300 to $999 for the 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800. Pricing of the mobile chips was not available.

Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme are based on Intel's Core microarchitecture, which replaces the NetBurst architecture used in the Pentium 4. The same microarchitecture is used in Woodcrest, the latest version of the Xeon server processor announced last month.

PC vendors say Core 2 Duo, formerly called Conroe and Merom, offers excellent performance for its price, allowing them to reach new markets.

Cold chips

Core 2 Duo runs at slower clock speeds than Pentium-era chips, but is more productive because it handles more calculations per clock cycle, said Sean Tucker, a product manager at HP. Thanks to that slower speed, Core 2 Duo chips need less electricity, drawing just 65W compared with the Pentium 4's 95W and Pentium D's 130W.

"That's good news for customers because it draws less power from the wall. This helps to create a cooler working environment because it doesn't dissipate so much heat, and a quieter environment because we can run the fan slower and generate less acoustical output," Tucker said.

While Intel has already begun shipping desktop Core 2 Duo chips to computer makers, most systems won't reach consumers until next week. The first Core 2 Duo desktops will reach users in early August, with Core 2 Duo laptops arriving by the end of the month, Intel said, noting that Core 2 Extreme systems are already available.

Going advanced

The Core 2 Duo chips are made using a 65-nanometre production process, one of the reasons they consume 40 per cent less power and offer a 40 per cent or greater increase in performance, based on Intel's estimates. The number used to describe the production process refers to the size of the smallest feature that can be created on a chip.

Intel began using the 65-nanometre process last year, starting the move away from the less-advanced 90-nanometre process. Shifting to a more advanced process generally permits the production of chips that are smaller, run faster and consume less power. The more advanced process also reduces the per-unit cost of chips, since more can fit on a single silicon wafer.

With the introduction of the Core 2 Duo, Intel now produces more 65-nanometre chips than 90-nanometre chips, the company said. That will help Intel put pressure on AMD, which still produces most of its chips using a 90-nanometre process.