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Intel says first quad-core mobile chips on the horizon

Apple chip supplier Intel said this week it's nearing the release of the industry's first mobile chips with four processing cores and is separately putting the finishing touches on a new generation of processors for ultra-thin notebooks like Apple's new MacBook Air.

The Santa Clara-based chip maker said the two processor families will combine to offer notebook manufacturers a total of eight new chips when they're announced in the next 90 days, wrapping up a mobile-focused summer for the company aimed at pushing innovation in surging notebook market.

Intel also announced this week the formal availability of its next-generation Intel Centrino 2 Core Duo processors — formerly codenamed Montevina — which improve upon every facet of mainstream notebooks, from performance and battery life to faster draft 802.11n wireless and high-definition video support.

"Today, notebooks outsell desktops in the U.S, and we're paving the way to HD entertainment, rich online gaming, faster broadband wireless speeds and an easier and more secure way for businesses to manage, update and repair their notebook fleets," said Mooly Eden, vice president of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group.

The five new Core 2 Duo chips, which are the successors to those used in Apple's existing MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, range in speed from 2.26GHz to 2.80GHz, and feature a 1066MHz front-side bus with up to 6MB of Level 2 cache. All are based on Intel's high-k metal gate formula and advanced 45-nanometer manufacturing process.

Three of the new chips — 2.26GHz, 2.4GHz, and 2.53GHz — have seen an approximately 30 percent reduction in wattage to just 25 watts. Meanwhile, all five of the new chips take advantage of the chip maker's Deep Power Down Technology that turns off processing components such as core clocks and cache memory when a notebook is idle for greater energy savings.

Simultaneously, Intel also introduced what it's calling the "world's highest-performing dual-core mobile processor," a Core2 Extreme chip running at a brisk 3.06 GHz with a thermal design power of 44 watts.

Another feature of the Centrino 2 mobile platform is something Intel is calling

"switchable graphics," or an optional power-saving feature that provides both integrated and discrete graphics on a single notebook, enabling users to easily switch between the two options.

"Switchable graphics delivers greater 3-D performance when needed while providing the option for greater power savings for the best of both worlds," the company said.

Intel added that Centrino 2 processor will also deliver for the first time the horsepower and battery life to watch a typical full-length Blu-ray high-definition video on a single battery charge.