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If you’re a student planning to take a new laptop back to school with you this fall, you’ve probably bought it already. But for those of you who’ve held out until now, a whole new breed of laptops is starting to ship. This year, there’s a new kid in town—and by new kid, I mean a processor transplant that will affect just about every notebook. The new Intel Core 2 Duos (code-named Merom) are just starting their freshman year, but they’re promising the fastest laptops money can buy.

The mobile Intel Core 2 Duo processors are simply more powerful than their predecessor, the Intel Core Duo (code-named Yonah). Complete with a new Core Microarchitecture, Merom represents a total redesign of the original.

The Core 2 Duos come with a larger Level 2 cache (up to 4MB), 64-bit support, shorter pipelines (which means more speed), and improved SSE instructions, pushing performance to the brink. Intel will begin to ship five processor offerings in all, ranging from a 1.6GHz mobile Intel Core 2 DuoT5500 to the fastest, a 2.33GHz mobile Intel Core 2 Duo T7600.

The processor is the only significant change with Intel’s launch Aug. 28. As far as Intel-based laptops are concerned, they are still married to the Intel 945GM chip set, the 3945AG wireless chip set, and the long-in-the-tooth 667MHz front-side bus.

You won’t see improved battery life, considering the higher-clocking processors actually consume more power (34W) compared with the mobile Intel Core Duos (31W). Still, battery life is still a factor of how big your battery is and how fast the components run.

In my lab tests, I saw the biggest improvements in media-related tasks, specifically when encoding audio and video. You’ll notice significant gains with media-related applications like Adobe Photoshop (v.7.01), Premiere (v.6.5) and After Effects (v.5.5). Other applications like Adobe Dreamweaver and Flash were also factored into the results. I also witnessed significant improvements in games such as Doom 3 and Splinter Cell running at 1024-by-768 resolution.

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