Intel Westmere 32nm Launch & Clarkdale Core i5-661 CPU Review

by MAC     |     January 3, 2010

Intel Westmere 32nm Launch
& Clarkdale Core i5-661 CPU Review

Outside of those with bank accounts that could be featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and famous, most people can’t afford the best of the best. We all know i7 quad core processors have the capability of running eight threads but with their accompanying X58 motherboards, this high-end solution is out of reach of the vast majority of buyers. The Lynnfield processors meanwhile were placed so the higher-end 860 and 870 LGA1156 products brushed into the Bloomfield pricing spectrum as befitted their performance. However, a combination of the i5 750 and a lower-end P55 motherboard represented the Nehalem architecture’s first foray into the mid-level pricing category and this week marks Intel’s final push into much more affordable territory with their Westmere derivative.

This Westmere series of CPUs will be broken up into two distinct categories like every other Intel chip has been for the last few years: a mobile part code-named Arrandale and a desktop series called Clarkdale. Upon first glance, Westmere is nothing more than a 32nm die shrink of the Nehalem architecture but as this article goes on, you will see that there is much more to it than just that. Not only do these new Westmere chips integrate a discrete GPU onto the CPU package but they also allow technologies which have been previously reserved for higher-end products to filter down so they are within everyone’s reach. That means certain models will be graced with Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost which were long missing from the entry-level market. This will go hand in hand with a new series of H and Q series LGA 1156 motherboards that are set to be released within the same timeframe.

One of the main selling points of the Westmere architecture is not only its price points but also the fact that it puts high-end graphics capabilities in the hands of the average consumer. While many of us will automatically think of the ATI HD 5000 series and NVIDIA GTX 200 series when talking about upper echelon graphics processing, try to step back and remember what entry level systems used to look like: an anemic Intel GMA accelerator that could barely play high quality YouTube videos much less play games. Meanwhile, the roll of the PC is evolving as the people’s knowledge base expands and everyone’s grandmother seems to have a Facebook profile. This means more and more consumers are doing digital editing in some form (photos, video, etc.) and enjoying casual PC gaming (be it flash games or basic games) without high-end system needs. This is where the new DX10-capable integrated Intel HD Graphics comes into play. It is supposed to offer not only the ability to use the applications most casual gamers are looking at but will also feature HD decoding abilities previously unheard of at this price point.

While we will be looking at the mobile Arrandale chip closer weeks, this article will concentrate on the desktop-destined Clarkdale chips and all they have to offer. Considering Intel will be releasing the i5-670, i5-661, i5-660, i5-650, i3-540, i3-530 and a Pentium-series CPU at the same time, things could get interesting. However, there is one thing to remember here and now: these are LGA 1156 processors which means they are compatible with P55, H57, H55 and Q57 motherboards but the integrated GPU will only work with the H and Q series of boards.

Intel is betting that now is the time you will be upgrading your older system since with i7, i5 and now i3 series of processors, they are able to deliver great performance and high efficiency across every price point. The likely thing is that a new Clarkdale-based system will be more efficient and better performing than a much higher-priced one from less than two years ago. But is it right for you? Read on.


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