Intel Corp. introduced its most important product line in six years Thursday, unveiling 10 microprocessors that are expected to help the world's largest chip maker retake ground lost to smaller competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
The Core 2 Duo microprocessors, which are being rolled out gradually over the next month, are Intel's first desktop and mobile chips to feature a blueprint designed to deliver significantly better performance while requiring less power and kicking off less heat.
Over the past year, Santa Clara-based Intel has lost about 5 percentage points of market share to rival AMD thanks to a raft of products that many reviewers have said are faster and less expensive to run than Pentium 4 processors, which Intel rolled out in 2000.
The new Intel design — which delivers as much as 40 percent better performance while consuming as much as 40 percent fewer watts than the previous generation — represents a potent weapon as it tries to close an advantage that AMD has enjoyed for three years.
"The days when AMD could just kick Intel around like it was a piece of wet newspaper are gone," said analyst Nathan Brookwood of the research firm Insight 64. "It is really a dramatic shift in terms of their competitive position, and not a minute too soon."
Intel, which has already begun shipping the new processors, said they will be available from PC makers over the next month. PCs carrying Intel's Core 2 Extreme, a high-end model aimed at computer gamers and other enthusiasts, are already being sold. Desktop systems with the Core 2 Duo will be available in about two weeks, while mobile machines carrying the new chip will start selling in about a month.
Prices for desktop processors range from $183 at the low-end to $999 for the top-of-the-line model, when purchased in volume. Intel did not provide prices for its mobile chips.
The chips, which act as the electronic brain in a computer, are built using a state-of-the-art manufacturing process in which the average circuit feature has been shrunk to about 65 nanometers — small enough so that 100 transistors will fit into a single human blood cell. There are about 291 million transistors in each processor.
Shrinking the circuitry allows Intel to cram more transistors onto the same size of silicon, in much the same way that condensing a letter font allows more words to be printed on a piece of paper. The smaller size also allows Intel to put two computing engines on a single chip.
The processors are built using a new design, or microarchitecture in semiconductor parlance, that was built from the ground up to reduce the wattage they consume and the amount of heat they give off. That helps Intel fight back against AMD, whose newer processors have boasted better performance-per-watt ratios.
Both companies are racing to deliver more power-efficient chips as energy bills for maintaining large numbers of computers and keeping them cool have emerged as one of the top costs in running many businesses.
Shares of Intel gained 8 cents, to $17.58, in Thursday afternoon trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. AMD shares lost 2 cents, to $18.23, in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.