Intel to debut quad-core ‘Core i5’ this week?

Think of it as the ‘Taiwanese Tease’: a treasure trove of hardware ready and waiting for Intel’s Core i5 but no sign of the musclebound mainstream processor itself.

That could be the scene in Taipei this week as the companies which build the world’s PCs come together at the annual Computex expo. Asus and Gigabyte are among the vendors that will showcase motherboards designed for Intel’s four-cylinder processor using the new CPU socket and ‘Ibex Peak’ P55 chipset.

Yet while the systems may be primed and ready questions remain over the silicon. It was widely expected that Intel would use Computex to launch its second series of Nehalem processors a mainstream line based on the high-end Core i7 and branded as Core i5.

Of course that marketing moniker hasn’t been officially announced – to date the chips have gone by the codename of Lynnfield and Havendale – but expectation of the Core i5 brand is fairly widespread.

(Indeed there were allusions to ‘BMW-like branding’ following the announcement of the Core i7 and given that Intel sponsors the BMW Sauber Formula One team this immediately led to suggestions of other BMW-like designations such as a mid-range i5 along with an i6 i3 or even an entry-level i1).

Intel’s mighty Core i7 may have to wait a bit longer before it gets a little brother…

Like the Core i7 Lynnfield is built on Intel’s 45nm Nehalem microarchitecture with an integrated memory controller and cache on the same die a point-to-point processor interconnect and simultaneous multithreading or ‘hyperthreading’.

Lynnfield is a quad-core only design that’s expected to clock at 2.66GHz 2.8GHz and 2.93GHz (prices are tipped at US$196 US$284 an USA$562 respectively when bought in lots of 1000). The CPU is backed by 8MB of shared cache with a dual-channel DDR3 memory controller and is intended for use with discrete graphics with a pair of x8 PCIe slots.

The catch for Computex however is that Intel is believed to have pushed Lynnfield’s availability back to September. The main reason given is that Intel wants to help vendors run down stocks of their Intel G4x and P4x chipsets. These are allied to the current Core 2 systems which are suffering from decreased sales during the economic downturn.

Once the inventory has run down far enough Intel will begin volume shipments of the first Core i5 and its matching P5x series chipsets around September. By a stroke of fortune this would be perfect timing so that PC builders to have all-new Core i5 systems ready and pre-loaded with Windows 7 in time for Microsoft’s expected mid-October OS launch.

So what will Intel do when its senior execs take the stage during Computex? We’re tipping a launch of the Core i5 brand but not the official launch of any Core i5 processors – certainly not in the sense that they’ll be available that same day week or even month.