Intel has launched a new chipset for desktop computers today, which will work with forthcoming new processors that are likely to feature in Apple's next-generation pro desktops.

The P965 Express chipset, formerly code-named Broadwater, will work with Intel's new Core 2 Duo desktop processor, also known as Conroe, which is due to go on sale next month. The chipset has started shipping in volume to PC makers already, Intel said.

Chipsets are collections of chips that surround the main processor and connect it to other parts of the motherboard. Together, the new desktop chips will offer a big boost in PC performance, including better graphics, while also using less power, said Anand Chandrasekher, an Intel senior vice president, in a speech at the start of Computex trade show in Taipei.

They are among several upcoming products designed to help Intel claw back market share lost to AMD. Other upcoming launches include the Woodcrest server chip, due later this month, and the Merom laptop chip, due in August. Like Conroe, Merom and Woodcrest are based on Intel's new Core processor design, which replaces the Netburst architecture it uses today.

More power for less power

Intel has discussed the processors before, but Chandrasekher also offered performance figures to show how much they will improve on its current offerings.

Conroe will be 40 per cent faster than Intel's best desktop chip today, but consume 40 per cent less power, he said. The Merom notebook chip will offer 20 per cent better performance and about the same battery life. Woodcrest, the server chip, will offer an 80 per cent lift in performance but use 35 per cent less power, according to Chandrasekher .

The boost comes partly from the new Core architecture, but also from a move to more advanced manufacturing techniques. The figures are unofficial, based on Intel estimates using a benchmark called the SPECint_rate_base2000, the company noted.

Pentium schmentium

Chandrasekher likened the significance of the Core 2 Duo chips to the introduction of Intel's first Pentium processor a decade ago.

Perhaps ironically, he also announced a marketing shift in which Intel will relegate its Pentium line of processors to what the company calls its "value PC" segment, or those for cheaper PCs, alongside the Celeron. The Celeron brand in turn will be used for very low-end PCs, such as those sold in emerging markets, the executive said.

The upcoming Core 2 Duo chips will occupy Intel's top pricing band, while its existing dual core chips will occupy the middle tier, Chandrasekher said.

The Intel chief also announced what he called Intel's first "ultra low voltage" dual-core notebook processor, the Core Duo U2500, which is based on the existing Netburst architecture. The chip will ship this month, he said. Pricing and specifications weren't immediately available.