In the next few days (12th November) Intel will be releasing its Core 2 Extreme QX9650 CPU, its new high end processor. This is the first Intel chip based built on the 45nm fabrication process, and it is also the first chip based on the Penryn core,, the successor of the Merom core.

The Core 2 Extreme QX9650 is clocked at 3GHz with 1333MHz front side bus and 6MB of L2 Cache per core die making 12MB in total. UK price will be around £650 (inc. VAT) or in the US $999 (ex. Tax).

The Penryn family of CPUs includes Wolfdale and Yorkfield with the QX9650 being a Yorkfield CPU. Basically the Wolfdale CPUs are the desktop version of the Penryn, with two cores sharing 6 MB of L2 cache. The York Yorkfield (QX9650) is actually a pair of Wolfdales on the same silicon substrate package, giving your 2 Dual Core CPUs but in one LGA775 socket.

With the move to the 45nm fabrication process Intel have managed to fit 410-million transistors on a 107mm² die, in comparison the Conroe die was a 291-million transistor design with a surface area of 143mm². In theory if Intel wanted to make the Conroe using the 45nm fabrication process they could squeeze it onto a 70mm² die. It is also worth noting that while the Wolfdale has nearly 50% more transistors than the Conroe it is 33 percent smaller than Conroe.

The new Penryn core isn’t just about transistor counts and die size it has some significant new features including:

  1. New SSE4 Instructions – SSE (Streaming SIMD) instructions are useful in allowing a single instruction to operate on multiple data items simultaneously. In general, they can substantially increase performance on multimedia, 3D graphics, and any other applications that use vector style math.
  2. Larger, Enhanced L2 Caches – The QX9650 ships with a total of 12MB of L2 with each dual core die contains 6MB of shared L2 cache(however it is worth noting that 2 separate L2 Caches is not as good as 1 single L2 cache).
  3. Higher Speed Cores and System Interface + higher front side bus – The QX6850 runs at 3GHz with and 1333 front side bus, and this is just the first Penryn. The Core 2 Extreme QX9775 due Q1 2008 will run at 3.2GHz and 1600MHz.
  4. Improved Virtualization – Improved virtual machine transition times (25-75% improvement)
  5. Super Shuffle – Penryn implements a 128-bit wide, single pass shuffle unit, and can perform a full width shuffle in a single cycle. This effectively doubles the speed for SSE data shuffle operations over the older Conroe architecture, and can reduce latency and improve throughput throughout the entire range of SSE instructions.
  6. Fast Radix-16 Divider – Division is one of the more thorny mathematical operations in digital processing. Penryn's fast radix-16 divider effectively doubles divider speed over previous Intel CPUs, which improves performance in scientific computing, 3D operations (particularly triangle setup), and any other computationally intensive math requiring efficient division. Radix-16 works on both integer and floating point data.

Bit-tech.net recently reviewed an engineering sample of the CPU and had some excellent opinions of it. They experimented with some overclocking on it and managed to achieve an impressive 4,350MHz and they expected this would easily be increased with more advanced cooling. Overall load power consumption was 240W which again is impressive considering the current Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (4×3.00GHz, 1333MHz FSB) runs at 312W on load, however due to the new 45nm fab it was no surprise.

Overall the bit-tech reviewers thought Intel had achieved more progress with the chip than expected and if spending £650 on a processor is not an issue for you then this is the only one to own. For those of us out there that prefers £650 to buy most of a computer we will have to wait until the more mainstream dual- and quad-core 45nm CPUs to arrive.

It is also worth noting that AMD will be releasing their Phenom processor in 2008 with over 10 models due throughout the year. Intel will also be releasing Penryns successor known as Nehalem in late 2008 which will use the 45nm process again but implement a new micro architecture. Nehalem is supposed to be the most significant new architectural change since the Pentium Pro.

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