Core 2 Duo sets the pace in chip wars

$2,999 RRP

This isn’t the first time The West has looked at the successful NEC Versa series, but this time the P8210 is a whole new computer. It’s one of the first salvos fired in the chip wars as market leader Intel positions itself to conquer rival AMD.

Seen by some as a move of desperation, AMD’s purchase of graphics card maker ATI ensures it still has a toehold in the PC chip market. Not quite coincidentally, the ATI graphics chip is part of Intel’s Centrino chipset that most high-end PC laptops have sported for the last 12 months.

It’s slightly confusing, but important for this reason; as reported in The West IT last week, Intel lost 10 percent of the chip market to AMD in the second quarter of 2006. Although having just over 70 percent of the market is an enviable position, their share price is plummeting. Clearly big news was needed, and it comes in the form of the Intel Core 2 Duo chip, successor to the still-new Core Duo.

As you’d expect, the Core 2 Duo chip is twice as ‘big’ as a Core Duo. It’s mostly related to the number of chips in the chipset — theoretically, they’re expandable up until the limits of human technology to make computer components small enough. But the equally important development is that of the Core 2 Duo being a 64-bit chip. Without delving into the mathematics and engineering of transistors and processors, that means the chip can handle much heavier workloads.

You may well be asking why that concerns you, quite happy with Microsoft Office, web browsing and email. In a word; Vista. Together with up to 512Mb of graphics, the Core 2 Duo chip will be virtually essential not only for Microsoft’s forthcoming graphics- and memory- heavy OS but the new and increasingly bloated applications that will run on it. Lab tests pegged CPU performance around 25% above the nearest competitor, a Core Duo. In practice, the P8210 made child’s play out of the large tasks we threw at it. The graphics card cache churned through heavy game graphics. The CPU performance handled the manipulating and resaving of large graphics files with as-yet unseen speeds.

Older products in the Versa family are upgradeable not just to a Core 2 Duo, but the proprietary extended battery developed by NEC that fits the P8210, so you haven’t missed the boat if you have an older model.

There’s also a host of additions and improvements in the months since we looked at this computer last. The dual layer DVD burner now supports all dual layer formats (DVD RAM, DVD-R, DVD+R) and the hard drive is now a massive 120Gb. Lesser models in the same line have smaller Core 2 Duo chips and hard drives, ranging between $2-3,000, and all have previous favourites like battery-saving eco-mode and a fully digital DVi port.

NEC offers a two-year warranty, although that’s becoming more standard in the same race for consumers as the interest-free period that keeps disappearing way off into the future.

The P8210 isn’t the only laptop that’ll have the Core 2 Duo chip — other manufacturers are starting to roll their units out. But it’s a proven tool that’s gone through many refinements to retain its place as one of the best notebook buys around.

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