Intel has announced its first Penryn-generation Core 2 silicon - but unless you want to pay an arm and a leg for the top-end model, you'll have to wait until early next year to buy a PC with one inside.

The second generation of the Core 2 series packs quad-core alongside far greater energy efficiency and power - even if our review of the just announced high-end Core 2 Extreme QX9650 doesn't show a marked performance improvement over the earlier generation.

The processor will debut on 12 November, but won't be joined by more mainstream parts until early 2008.

We'll be able to tell you official details on the mainstream parts after this date, but here's the skinny on what we know about the range so far.

New desktop and mobile chips

The main changes from the older Core 2 Duo 65nm series are the inclusion of more L2 cache memory, higher-clocked FSB (Front Side Bus) speeds and SSE4 instructions.

The QX9650 has 12MB of L2 cache, while the mainstream Core 2 Quad processors (also codenamed Yorkfield) will pack in "up to 12MB" of cache. They will also be even more energy efficient with power envelope of up to 95W compared to the QX9650's 130W.

Also part of the Penryn series will be a new line of desktop and laptop Core 2 Duo processors. For the desktop the new chips (previously known as Wolfdale) will pack in up to 6MB of L2 cache and will have a 65W power envelope.

Intel says the laptop variants (which will also include a mobile Core 2 Extreme processor) will usher in the "next evolution of dual-core power efficiency". All will be available in the new year.

Core 2 Extreme on sale

We're expecting announcements of performance machines featuring the high-end QX9650 over the next couple of weeks. We reckon Dell will probably be one of the first to go for it.

Since the world's second-largest PC manufacturer wheeled its XPS systems out in earnest it has prided itself on getting top chips first - including the last Core 2 Extreme quad-core chip, the QX6850. That model was featured in Dell's super-chilled 720C H2C Desktop where it was factory overclocked to 3.67GHz.

Intel's next major desktop processor revision is due at the end of 2008 when Nehalem will debut. That's Intel's next completely new CPU design following the Core 2 microarchitecture. As we've reported previously, Intel revealed several key Nehalem features at its IDF conference in September.

All this is rather interesting for AMD, which will announce details on its Phenom quad-core performance processors this month. They're expected to be available in significant quantities come the new year. What's more, they will be 'native' quad-cores. Even Intel's new QX9650 consists of two separate dual-core chips combined together in a single processor package.