Intel's new 45nm quad-core PC processor will only hit 3GHz at launch. That's slightly disappointing given the news of a 3.2GHz version of the same CPU destined for server and workstation systems.

During a PC processor roadmap update at the IDF technology jamboree in San Francisco, Intel bigwig Steve Smith told attendees that the new flagship 45nm quad-core desktop chip will be known as the Core 2 Extreme QX9650.

Yorkfield? Penryn?

Part of the Penryn family of 45nm processors, the chip has previously been known under the Yorkfield codename and is due to hit the market in the final quarter of 2007.

However, earlier in the day, Intel's server and workstation product manager Pat Gelsinger revealed that the company's upcoming 45nm Xeon processors will launch at speeds up to 3.2GHz.

Intel's Core 2 and Xeon processors are based on precisely the same processor dies. However, courtesy of distinct processor packaging the two product lines offer different socket compatibility and memory support among other specification variations.

The Xeon server chips will also benefit from a faster CPU bus running at 1,600MHz. Intel's 45nm desktop processors will initially be available with 1,333MHz bus speeds.

If nothing else, the 3.2GHz Xeon chip proves that Intel has some performance in hand for the desktop. Especially if AMD defy expectations and deliver a surprisingly competitive product when its own Phenom quad-core CPU appears towards the end of 2007.

Clock-for-clock performance improvements

But clockspeed aside, exactly how much number-crunching oomph will the new 45nm chips deliver? Compared with Intel's existing 64nm Core 2 processors, it's claimed various refinements to the new 45nm architecture deliver significant clock-for-clock performance improvements.

At the lower end of the scale, Intel reckons photo editing grunt is up by 7 per cent, clock for clock.. Meanwhile, 3D gaming will enjoy a 13 per cent boost and applications that leverage the chip's new SSE4 instructions, such as video encoding, could leap by as much 63 per cent.

During the roadmap update, Intel also confirmed that its second generation 45nm Nehalem processor family was on track for 2008. Both Westmere and Sandybridge, the 32nm follow ups to the Penryn family of chips, are likewise said to be on target for late 2009 and beyond.

All in all, it's an impressive and intimidating roadmap, despite the slightly underwhelming 3GHz launch speed of the 45nm Core 2 quad-core model. AMD certainly has its work cut out.