From mighty six-core desktop chips to miniscule smartbook processors, here's a look at what's on the cards for CPUs this year.
Quadcore processors will enter the mainstream this year as AMD and Intel whack down prices to gain market share. You can already find four AMD quad-core CPUs - the Phenom X4 9850, 9750 and 9150e and the Athlon II X4 620 - street-priced at less than £120.
At CES, Intel introduced an entirely new series of dual-core processors that were produced using its new 32-nanometer manufacturing process.
Moreover, the first six-core desktop CPUs will be introduced this year, perhaps as early as the second quarter, but they will be aimed squarely at the enthusiast market.
At the other end of the spectrum, Intel will continue to dominate the market for ultra-low-power desktop CPUs. AMD is completely out of the picture there, but Via Technologies has some interesting products to offer.
Standard desktop CPUs
AMD will continue to rely on its K10 microarchitecture and won't ship any 32nm processors in bulk until 2011.
As a result, the company's official desktop road map reveals very few CPU introductions this year. That will force it to compete with Intel largely on price in most market segments, since it can't challenge its rival on performance.
AMD is, however, preparing to introduce a six-core desktop CPU - code-named Thuban - sometime in 2010.
Thuban is derived from the company's existing six-core Opteron server CPU and will have an integrated DDR3 memory controller.
AMD says the chip will be backward-compatible with existing AM3 and AMD+ motherboards.
Rumour has it that the CPU will be outfitted with 3MB of L2 cache and 6MB of L3 cache, but clock speeds will likely be slower than current AMD quadcores because of the thermal output of the two additional cores.
"Thuban is coming," said AMD spokesman Damon Muzny, "but we haven't disclosed specifications on the six-core desktop processors yet".
Intel continues to execute its 'tick-tock' strategy, introducing a new microarchitecture (last year's Nehalem being the tick), followed by a new manufacturing process (the new 32nm Westmere process being the tock).
At CES, Intel introduced seven new dual-core desktop processors (four Core i5 CPUs, two members of the new entry-level Core i3 series, and a new Pentium) manufactured using the 32nm process.
Previously code-named Clarkdale, the new chips support hyperthreading, so that multithreaded applications are presented with two physical and two virtual cores.
The Pentium G6950, the Core i3-530 and 540, and the Core i5-650, 660, 661 and 670 all feature integrated Intel HD Graphics in the same chip package (but not on the same die).
Intel maintains that its new integrated graphics offering is good enough for both mainstream gaming (with support for DirectX 10) and Blu-ray video decoding.
It supports DVI, dual simultaneous HDMI 1.3a and DisplayPort; it's also capable of streaming encrypted Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.
Intel's existing quadcore desktop processors - everything in the Core i7 series and the upper end of the Core i5 series - will continue to be manufactured using the older 45nm process.
Intel does, however, have a six-core Westmere chip on its official road map. Code-named Gulftown, the chip will supposedly reach the market sometime in the first quarter - well in advance of AMD's six-core offering - as part of Intel's Extreme Edition family.
Intel has not yet disclosed branding, but rumour has it the chip will be officially labeled the Core i7-980X.
NEXT PAGE: Low-power desktop CPUs
- We look at what's on the cards for CPUs this year
- Desktop processors
- Low-power desktop CPUs
- Full-size laptop CPUs
- Netbook CPUs
- Looking further out
See all: Processor reviews