2008 CPU forecast: Quad-cores for everyone!

What's in store for desktop processors this year? Computerworld makes its annual CPU prognostications.

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The QX9775 is built for Intel's new server-inspired LGA771-based Skulltrail platform, which will allow hardcore users to plug two of these quad-core processors into a single motherboard, offering the first octo-core application for consumers.

In addition to running at 3.2 GHz, both processors will feature astonishingly large 12MB L2 caches. At price ranges near $1,500, these CPUs will be far from cheap.

It is likely that Intel will roll out another iteration of Extreme Edition processors at 3.4 GHz and possibly up to 4.0 GHz before the year's end.

Quad-cores (and dual-cores) for the rest of us

Intel will also be rolling out nonextreme Penryn Q- and E-class processors throughout the course of 2008. (Q stands for quad-core, while the E series is the standard Core 2 Duo line.) In weeks, we'll begin to see the first of these made available to consumers.

At the midrange, Intel will release numerous quad- and dual-core CPUs under the desktop Core 2 and server-based Xeon labels. It's worth noting that these quad-core processors are not "native" quad-core -- instead they consist of two dual-core dies joined at the hip.

In the first quarter of 2008 alone, we'll see the release of the Core 2 Quad Q9300 (2.5-GHz clock speed with a 6MB L2 cache), the Q9450 (2.7-GHz, 12MB L2 cache) and the Q9550 (2.8-GHz, 12MB L2 cache). All three processors will run on a 1333-MHz front-side bus and Socket LGA775. Near the third quarter of 2008, we'll see the Q9400 (2.7 GHz, 6MB L2) and the Q9650 (3.0 GHz, 12MB L2). Both of these processors will run on the LGA775 socket and a 1333 FSB. (If you're keeping track at home, the "50" designator on Q-series CPUs indicates a 12MB L2 cache.)

A sure sign that market dynamics in the CPU biz have greatly changed in the past few years is the fact that 45nm dual-core 2.6- to 3.3-GHz Core 2 Duo processors are now considered the bottom rung of midrange processors.

In the first half of 2008, Intel will release a series of 45nm Core 2 Duos, including the E8190 (2.7 GHz), E8200 (2.7 GHz), E8300 (2.8 GHz), E8400 (3.0 GHz), and E8500 (3.2 GHz). Sometime in the third quarter, the E8600 (3.3 GHz) will debut. All of these CPUs are Socket LGA775 and will feature 6MB L2 caches, run on a 1333 MHz front-side bus and support Intel's Virtualization Technology.

The lowest end of the Core 2 Duo spectrum will feature a new 65nm Core 2 Duo CPU: the 2.6-GHz E4700, which sports a 2MB L2 cache and runs on an 800-MHz FSB. Also on tap is the Penryn-based E7200, a 2.5-GHz chip with a 3MB L2 cache and 1066-MHz FSB speeds. Neither of these processors will be capable of virtualization.

Hello, Nehalem

Nehalem, Intel's code name for its next big leap in CPU technology, is named after a small town near the northwest corner of Oregon. The name originally refers to a Northwestern tribe of Native Americans known more commonly as the Tillamook.

In keeping with the company's tradition of premiering new CPU microarchitectures in even years, Nehalem will represent a fairly significant enhancement over current Core 2 processor technology. In fact, the buzz around this new processor class has indicated that it will represent the biggest set of changes since Intel released the Pentium Pro in 1995.

We've outlined the most important new features below:

Integrated memory controller: This is perhaps the biggest news and the biggest philosophical/structural change in Nehalem. Intel has confirmed that this processor will mark the demise of the Northbridge memory controller. By integrating the memory controller -- the logic chip used to handle the input and output of data moving to and from memory -- onto the CPU core, Intel will circumvent the throughput limitations imposed by the front-side bus.

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