Updated at 2:15 p.m. PDT: adding information about Dell system.
The main message of the new Core i5 chip is simple: it's cheap--even cheaper than Intel chips based on older technology.
The i5, which brings Intel's new "Nehalem" microarchitecture into the mainstream PC market, immediately makes many, if not most, of the older desktop processors obsolete. Consumers need look no further than pricing on sites like Amazon. The i5-750 lists for $250, while the older--based on Intel's last-generation "Core 2" microarchitecture--Q9650 lists for $319.
The official pricing from Intel in quantities of 1,000 units makes the price gap even more stark: $196 for the i5 and $316 for the Q9650.
"The new Core i7's and Core i5's bring pricing to more mainstream levels, with the Core i5-750 at a 1KU (1,000 units) price of $196, which is well below the Core 2 Quad Q9650 at $316," said Intel spokesman George Alfs.
"We are very serious about bringing all new Core processors to new price points and you'll see this trend continue with Westmere," he said, referring to Intel's upcoming processors based on a next-generation 32-nanometer manufacturing process.
Comparing the old with the new, some consumers might point out that the older Q9650 has, for example, more on-chip memory and a higher clock speed than the Core i5. But the writing is on the wall: consumers will almost always opt for new over old when new is less expensive.
On Tuesday, Dell began offering the Studio XPS 8000 tower with the Core i5 starting at $799 and packing 4GB of "Dual Channel DDR3 memory" and a 500GB hard disk drive, among other features. Adding a 20-inch monitor hikes this to $979.
The message is more muddled, however, for the updated Core i7 processors because they maintain the same "i7" identifier as their predecessors--first launched in November--but offer different features that are not readily apparent to less-sophisticated buyers and potentially vexing for some savvy consumers.
"It gets confusing for the more technically knowledgeable buyer, and for us as system builders," said Kelt Reeves, president of enthusiast PC maker Falcon Northwest. "Buying a Core-i7 950 model? Well then you can have a maximum of 12 gigs (gigabytes) of triple channel memory and you buy your memory in sets of 3 sticks. Buying a Core i7-870? Well then your memory is installed in pairs and the max you can have is 8 gigs," he explained.
Reeves continued. "For instance, if you're a heavy Photoshop user having 12 gigs of the fastest memory might be very important to you," he added, saying in that case a consumer would want to opt for a Core i7 900 series over the newer 800 series.
There are other gotchas too. On the i5 processors a feature called hyperthreading is not included, as CNET's Rich Brown pointed out Tuesday. Hyperthreading effectively doubles the number of tasks--or processing threads--a chip can do. "Heavy multitaskers and those who use multithreaded software will feel the loss here," Brown said.