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Intel's new CPU branding - Core i3, i5, and i7

by Tarinder Sandhu on 18 June 2009, 00:00

Tags: Intel Processors, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

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Overview

Intel has plans for a new brand structure that it claims will be less confusing for customers. In this TekSpek we’ll take a look at Intel’s proposals and speculate on its future line up of processors.

Why is Intel changing its branding?

Intel states that it has “a complex structure with too many platform brands, product names, and product brands” and adds that it has “made things confusing for consumers and IT buyers in the process.”

Hoping to rectify the problem, it has announced a new brand structure that, over time, promises to do away with current so-called complexities and replace them with "a simplified family of Core processors spanning multiple levels".

That's the theory, but many are already a little confused by Intel's future plans. Judging by a post by Intel communications manager Bill Calder on the Intel Technology Blog, it seems as though the semiconductor giant is taking a leaf out of NVIDIA's book by attempting to unify its core product line with a common nomenclature, i.e. Core i#.

However, looking forward, Bill's information doesn't quite paint a crystal clear picture of what will happen in years to come. We know that the much-loved Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad brands will one day go the way of the Dodo, but the new brands coming in - Core i3 and Core i5 - aren't exactly made clear. What are they? Well, we know now that the Core i5 moniker will be used by upcoming Lynnfield parts, but the rest remains largely a mystery.

Demystifying Intel’s new brand structure

With Intel leaving the door agape for conjecture, here's what we think might be the future line up of Intel's flagship brand. Please keep in mind that this is largely hearsay, and using available facts, we're simply doing our best to put two and two together.


 

Core i3

Core i5

Core i7

Core i9

Codename Wolfdale Yorkfield Penryn Arrandale Lynnfield Clarkdale Lynnfield Clarksfield Bloomfield Gulftown
Process 45nm 45nm 45nm 32nm 45nm 32nm 45nm 45nm 45nm 32nm
Platform Desktop Desktop Mobile Mobile Desktop Desktop Desktop Mobile Desktop Desktop
Architecture Core 2 Core 2 Penryn Westmere Nehalem Westmere Nehalem Nehalem Nehalem Westmere
Socket (LGA) 775 775 775 mPGA-989 1155 1156 1156 mPGA-989 1366 1366
Intel chipset support P35, P43, P45, G35, G43, G45, Q35, Q43, Q45, X38, X48 P35, P43, P45, G35, G43, G45, Q35, Q43, Q45, X38, X48 GL40, GS45, GM45, PM45 Unknown P55, P57, H55, H57, Q57 P57, H57, Q57 (will require FDI for IGP) P55, P57, H55, H57, Q57 Unknown X58 X58
Cores / Threads 2 / 2 4 / 4 2 / 2 2 / 4 4 / 4 2 / 4 4 / 8 4 / 8 4 / 8 6 / 12
Hyper Threading No No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
QPI / DMI DMI DMI DMI DMI DMI DMI DMI DMI QPI QPI
Memory Dual-channel Dual-channel Dual-channel Dual-channel Dual-channel Dual-channel Dual-channel Dual-channel Tri-channel Tri-channel
Turbo boost No No No Unknown Yes Unknown Yes Unknown Yes Yes
L3 cache No No No 4MB 8MB 4MB 8MB 6MB / 8MB 8MB 12MB
45nm IGP No No No Yes No Yes No No No No
Availability Now as Core 2 Duo Now as Core 2 Quad Now as Core 2 Mobile Q4 2009 Q3 2009 Q4 2009 Q1 2010 Q3 2009 Now as Core i7 Q1 2010

Now for some observations. The above table, built from a combination of mostly fact and a little speculation, focuses solely on Intel's Core range. Readers should be aware that Intel's Atom, Celeron and Pentium brands will live on unchanged. Why not bring them under the Core umbrella? Well, Intel wants to keep its Core brand limited to performance parts - and, let's face it, a Core i1 just doesn't sound quite right.

So, given Intel's comments, we can speculate and assume that the still-going-strong Core 2 line will live on under the Core i3 brand, where it'll later be joined by the 32nm mobile Arrandale range.

It's important to note, also, that Intel states that the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 names are not brands but modifiers that signal different features and benefits. Hence Lynnfield, a mainstream Nehalem part, will appear as both Core i5 and Core i7 when it reaches market. Trying to make sense of it, we're assuming that the Core i5 Lynnfield will be without Hyper Threading, whereas the Core i7 alternative will feature eight threads - making it a slower clocked Bloomfield, albeit without QPI and tri-channel memory.

Still with us? Good, because there's also the matter of Gulftown - a six-core derivative of Bloomfield that we reckon could emerge as Core i9 when it reaches the market sometime next year. Should that be the case, we'll see Intel's range span the following multiple levels - Core i3 for mainstream, Core i5 for performance, Core i7 for high performance, and Core i9 for extreme.

It's all starting to get a little clearer, but model names remain a mystery. Once Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad are phased out, will Intel continue to make clear the number of cores featured in a single processor? If so, will we see a Core i3 Duo and a Core i3 Quad? Maybe, maybe not. On top of that, how will it identify parts with an IGP? Will the Clarkdale-based Core i5 arrive with a name along the lines of Core i5 G820? With the G pointing out integrated graphics? Who knows.

Summary

Plenty remains unclear, but Intel appears adamant that its simplification process will come good, someday.
Buyers, meanwhile, should be wary of the branding that’s set to appear later this year. Should Intel’s plans remain unchanged, it seems Core i7 processors will be available in two desktop formats supporting socket LGA 1156 and LGA 1366 – both of which require different motherboards.