Intel's 2nd Generation Core processor family announced, includes 29 new CPUs and enhanced graphics

They're here! That is, Intel's Sandy Bridge mobile and desktop processors herein known as the 2nd Generation Core processor family or more simply as Intel Core 2011 processors to us. After months of teasing and on-stage demos, Chipzilla is finally unleashing the details of its new Core i3, i5, and i7 processors, and considering there are 29 new CPUs in total as well as new integrated graphics options (now known as processor graphics) there's quite a bit to digest. Hit the break for our rundown of the new platform and a look at some of Intel's newest performance and graphics-focused features.

What's new here?

It was just a year ago that Intel released its first generation Core processors, so what exactly makes this platform different? Well, a few things. For those that haven't followed the Sandy Bridge saga, the new family of processors are all based on Intel's 32nm microarchitecture and are the first to put both the processor, memory controller, and graphics on the same die. What's that mean for you? In short, it means the package is smaller and all the parts get to take advantage of each other better -- for instance, by dynamically clocking both the CPU cores and graphics to match whatever workload you throw at it, and giving them up to 1MB of shared cache. Speaking of those graphics, while they may still not be on par with a discrete video card, they're more powerful than ever before. According to Intel, the new HD 2000 and 3000 processor graphics provide 2x the performance of Capella-based systems, and that actually holds up with what we've seen in early benchmarks (so long, GMA 4500). What's more, Intel's improved its Turbo Boost and Hyper-threading technologies such that the new chips enable higher levels of CPU performance as well -- up to a 60 percent improvement with quad-core mobile CPUs. Additionally, the new integrated chips reduce power consumption and can actually completely turn off an idle optical drive, enabling what Intel's calling "incredible battery life."

The processor details

That new architecture means new CPUs, and Intel's introducing a total of 29 new processors, which include different varieties of mobile and desktop Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 models. The chart above gives you a pretty good breakdown of the versions and Intel's provided a more detailed breakdown of each of these, including clock speeds and TDP here. You will note that there's a slightly different naming convention now -- there's the processor name followed by four numbers, rather than the previous three. As we had heard, the quad-core i7 CPUs will be the first to ship in systems -- they should be hitting this week -- while the dual-core versions won't be shipping until February. Not to worry, the ultra-low voltage (ULV) versions for ultraportable laptops are coming and will be introduced in the second half of the year. There's even a set of specially-marked overclockable 'K' series processors for the tweakers in your family, which lets them individually set the clockspeed ratios for each individual core -- though they'll also need a premium P67 Express motherboard.

New features

That's the brunt of the technical stuff (if you are looking for more on that, hit some of the links in more coverage), but Intel's trying harder than ever to explain the speeds and feeds with new consumer friendly features. Most of them have to do with the enhanced graphics -- here's a short rundown of the main ones we expect to hear quite a bit about at CES and at Intel's CES presser.

  • Intel Quick Sync Video - The title of this one isn't exactly the most self explanatory, but Intel's promising way faster video transcoding with it's new integrated Quick Sync feature, which does encoding in hardware -- it says it will be 17x faster than older generations of integrated graphics. Intel's partnered with media software companies like CyberLink, Corel, and ArcSoft to enable this hardware-accelerated H.264 and MPEG-2 video conversion.

  • Intel InTru 3D / Clear Video HD - 3D Blu-ray playback over HDMI 1.4? Not a problem for Intel's Core 2011 platform. This doesn't mean Intel's providing the 3D technology for laptops or desktops, but it's promising that you can play stereoscopic 3D and HD content on your TV using HDMI.

  • WiDi 2.0 - Our biggest complaints about the original WiDi was the lack of support for 1080p. Well, Intel's finally enabled streaming of full HD with its latest processors. There's still lag and you will need to pick up a new TV receiver, most likely a new one from Netgear, to take advantage of the new full HD abilities. We've got more details on this and Intel's new Insider video content service here.

Now what?

What's next? A boatload of laptops and desktops powered by these new processors, that's what! Oh yes, Intel says that over 500 systems will be based on the new platform. We've already seen a few leak out, but you can bet on most of the major computer manufacturers announcing new systems at CES 2011 (Lenovo's taken the first step!), so stay tuned for tons of announcements. Until we flood you with those, enjoy studying up on all the new processors in the gallery above.

Sean Hollister contributed to this report.