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Intel has released more affordable versions of its Nehalem microarchitecture chips. Formerly codenamed “Lynnfield,” the new offerings consist of Intel Core i5 processor family, two new Intel Core i7 processors and the Intel Xeon processor 3400 series. They are significantly cheaper than last year’s initial Nehalem chips, the Core i7 900-series, and offer strong price/performance and absolute performance levels, as well as a strong channel play.
The company also announced the P55 express chipset, which Intel, with its’ characteristic modesty, says contains the most revolutionary design changes since the invention of the PCI bus in the early 1990s and sets the stage for Intel’s forthcoming 2010 compute platform. Intel says the Intel P55 Express Chipset will be the baseline building block component for motherboards worldwide, delivering new levels of performance and scalability for everyone from the retail buyer to the technically savvy do-it-yourselfer.

Intel’s hype for these offerings is deserved, said Warren Shiau, Lead Analyst, IT Research, The Strategic Counsel.

“Second-generation Nehalem is an awesome product,” Shiau said. “Price/performance is huge and absolute performance levels are high enough that only top-of-the-line Bloomfields make any sense versus the initial Lynnfield releases, and then only if you’re something like a super power/scientific/modelling user or high-end gamer and absolute performance is critical – and you’re willing to pay way more for it.”

The new Core i7 and i5 processors are the first Intel processors to integrate both a 16-lane PCI Express 2 graphics port and two-channel memory controller, enabling all input/output and manageability functions to be handled by the single-chip Intel P55 Express Chipset. Previous Intel chipsets required two separate chips. There are two i7 models, both with hyperthreading: the 2.93GHz Core i7-870, priced at $562, and the 2.80GHz Core i7-860, priced at $284. The one which may be most attractive to the channel however, is the 2.66GHz Core i5-750, which beats the $200 barrier at $196, although it does not feature hyperthreading.

There are six SKUs in the Xeon 3400 series: the Xeon X3470 (2.93GHz $589), the X3460 (2.80GHz, $316), X3450 (2.66GHz, $241), X3440 (2.53GHz, $215), X3430 (2.40GHz, $189) and L3426 (1.86GHz, $284).

Will desktops and servers with these new chips be noticeably superior to pre-Nehalem chips? Most certainly, said Shiau.

“To put everything in perspective, the lowest level Lynnfield Intel is putting on the market right now (i5 750) outperforms the best Core 2 Quad and it’s a sub-US$200 processor at initial list price,” Shiau said. “So there are going to be a lot of extremely attractive mainstream Lynnfield desktops coming out that’ll outperform the best you could have bought — regardless of price — not too long ago

They are also likely to be extremely attractive products for the channel.

“This is a powerful channel product and is priced well for the SMB segment, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group. “For firms looking at buying and being protected from premature obsolescence, a Lynnfield product will be attractive and the value propositions are relatively simple and relatively easy for the channel to articulate.”

Still, regardless of the upgrade level and attractiveness to customers, neither Shiau nor Enderle think they will have a major impact on the refresh cycle.

“Lynnfield is a strong evolutionary product from Intel that positions well competitively in the market but prior products from Intel and AMD are performing well in use and economic conditions aren’t yet ideal for a big refresh,” Enderle said. “Therefore it is unlikely Lynnfield, by itself, will drive a big refresh cycle.”

“There’s no reason to anticipate Lynnfield accelerating refreshes,” Shiau said. “I think the effect is more along the lines of preventing a refresh deceleration — that the big steps in price/performance provide a reason to continue refresh cycles per normal practice.

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