That something is called…. Nehalem.

Yeah that’s right, Intel’s new processor, codenamed “Nehalem”, is coming out this month. The Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) has apparently ended and there is a slew of reviews across the internetwebs discussing the new chip. I skimmed or even read several of them trying to get the lowdown on this new beast. As always, I’m extremely interested in new tech and this one has promised a bunch.

First, here is a brief list of some of the reviews out there (in no particular order) . I have gone through all of these… (see UPDATE just below)

So after rumaging through these articles, coupled with misc rumors I’ve read on forums over the last few months I’ve got a pretty good idea of what this new chip will bring.

Similar to the issue with current Quad Cores (and to a lesser extent, current Dual Cores), if a program is single threaded you aren’t going to see massive improvements. In fact, you might see little to none, or in some cases *worse* performance. Note that the cases where it is worse are not very frequent, but they do exist. Single-threaded programs like Photoshop see much more benefit from a CPU with high GHz than they do with a CPU with multiple cores. So a faster Dual running at 3.0GHz (e8400 = $170) will outrun a Quad running at 2.8GHz (Q9550 = $320) in single-threaded programs and at a substantially lower price to boot.

As an example, take Tom’s Hardware’s Photoshop CS3 benchmark as an example. The chart is arranged fastest to slowest. The overclocked Core i7’s are at the top of the list, yes. But not only is it overclocked, that is the Extreme version, which means it is going to sell for OVER a thousand dollars. The Dual core e8600 ($270) is above the Quad core QX9770 ($1,400), which is right above the Dual core e8500 ($190). Two of the top three scores are dual cores.

However…

If the program is multi-threaded then it’s a whole new ball game. The new Core i7’s absolutely CRUSH everything thats out there right now. Even the slowest of the new chips (the Core i7 920) is faster than the older quads. By a lot. In the Divx encoding benchmark shown below, the 920 is about 20% faster than the fastest of the older quads -which were already blazing to begin with- and about 50% faster (i.e. double) than the e8600 and e8500 I was praising just a minute ago.

I’m really curious to see how far these chips can be overclocked. Throughout the Core 2 series, it has been incredibly easy to take a low-end chip and overclock it well past the performance point of a higher-end chip in it’s line.

That didn’t quite make sense did it? Here’s an example… You could purchase an e8600 for $270 which runs at 3.3GHz OR you could purchase an e8400 for $170 and overclock it from 3.0Ghz (stock speed) to 3.8Ghz very easily, and in some cases over 4.0GHz with the modest investment of some time on your part tweaking a few settings. You spend LESS and get MORE. That extra $100 you saved could be spent towards some mighty fine beer to drink while you’re stress testing your new machine.

Hopefully these new chips will have similar performance headroom. We won’t know till the review sites get their hands dirty and some regular folks get their hands on systems and begin experimenting for themselves. I am very hopeful.

Is it worth the buy?

HELLS YEAH!

Look, I wouldn’t go buy this as soon as it comes out. That’s insanity. The cheapest chip is listed at about $284 which is very good. But as past experience has shown us, retailers will initially jack up that price, so expect to see a 10-20% markup at least. So let’s say $300 for the chip if not more. The cheapest motherboard right now that supports this is $300. The cheapest RAM I could find in 3GB configuration (3GB because the new chip uses tri-channel instead of dual-channel) was about $110 and a 6GB configuration (the preferred route) starts at $210. So right off the bat, just between the CPU, motherboard and RAM you’ve got $810 tied up.

In comparison, you could get the same parts for a current system about 20% slower (on average) for $480 (CPU=$300, motherboard=$100, 4GB RAM=$80). If you’ve already got a compatible motherboard, you can just get a new CPU for $300 and get *almost* there. That should hold you off for another year or more depending on your needs.

So wait a few months. Let the prices come back to normal from the retailers. Let motherboard makers come out with less expensive alternatives. Let the DDR3 RAM prices continue to drop due to increased production down to DDR2 levels. Wait until the next set of chips with this architecture comes out this spring.

What does it mean for the rest of us?

Well, here’s my theory. Since the new chips are quad core, I am thinking (hoping) that prices on current generation Quads, specifically the Q9450 and Q9550, will drop somewhat to accomodate the Core i7’s introduction to the lineup. If the list price for a i7 920 is $284, you can’t have a lower performing Q9450 selling for $300. If the price of that Q9450 comes down to about $250 or less, it then becomes very attractive to potential upgraders who have a dual core or an older Quad like the Q6600 (like me).

If you’re looking for another dual core, I doubt it will affect pricing since there is no direct competition in the Core i7 line right now. It is unclear right now if Intel is going to produce dual cores with this architecture.

It does look like they’ve paved the way for EIGHT cores on this chip…