Retailers taking orders for laptops with Core i7 chips

Retailers are now taking orders for what could easily be the world's fastest laptops, powered by Intel's speedy Core i7 desktop processors.

U.S. retailer AVADirect and Canadian retailer Eurocom are offering variants of Clevo's D900F laptop with the Core i7 processor, a chip usually included in high-end gaming desktops. The chips, launched in November, were dubbed the "world's fastest chips" by Intel until the company's Xeon server processors were introduced in March.

The laptops will come with 17-inch screens and are intended to be desktop replacement PCs. The machines don't skimp on features and include a full array of components one would find in Core i7 desktop systems, according to laptop specifications on the retailers' Web sites. AVADirect, in particular, decided not to wait to bring the Core i7 hardware to consumers in a portable form.

"While power usage will be higher, AVADirect does not need to wait until Intel or some other company designs and implements mobile offerings of current desktop hardware," AVADirect said in a statement. Laptop hardware usually lags desktop hardware by up to 12 months, so the desktop hardware needed to be redesigned for notebook usage, AVADirect said.

The laptops come with Core i7 920, 940 and 965 quad-core processors running at speeds from 2.66GHz to 3.2GHz, and include 8MB of L3 cache. The laptops draw 130 watts of power, and will come with the X58 chipset and an Nvidia graphics processing unit (GPU) to boost graphics performance.

The laptops will support up to 6GB of DDR3 memory, which should provide a tremendous performance boost. The machines will support up to 1.5TB of RAID hard drive storage and include wireless 802.11a/b/g/n technology. They will ship with either Windows Vista or Linux OS. Eurocom's customized Clevo D900F system -- which is called the Panther D900F -- weighs a whopping 11.9 pounds (5.4 kilograms).

With standard components, the D900F laptop's starting price is around US$2,500 on AVADirect's Web site. The price crosses $6,000 for an extravagant configuration that includes the fastest Core i7 965 processor, three 500GB storage drives, internal Bluetooth capabilities, a DVD-RW drive and additional cooling features.

Intel's Core i7 chips are a significant upgrade over Intel's Core 2 Duo chips, which are currently used in desktops and laptops. The new chips are built on the Nehalem microarchitecture, which improves system speed and performance-per-watt compared to Intel's earlier Core microarchitecture.

Each core will be able to execute two software threads simultaneously, so a laptop with four processor cores could simultaneously run eight threads for quicker application performance. Intel has integrated the chips and chipset with QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) technology, which integrates a memory controller and provides a faster pipe for the CPU to communicate with system components like graphics cards.

Intel later this year intends to introduce new chips for desktops and laptops. The chips, code-named Arrandale, will be dual-core and start shipping in the fourth quarter this year, with laptops becoming available in early 2010. Arrandale chips are expected to be faster than existing Core 2 Duo chips and consume less power. However, laptops with Arrandale chips may not match the speeds of Core i7 laptops, considering the chips will be dual-core and built to draw limited amounts of power.

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