Intel's Micro ATX Desktop Board DH55TC Media Series motherboard, combined with the new Clarkdale processors and integrated graphics, offers impressive and HD graphics, Blu-ray and multi-channel audio. It features three graphics outputs, including HDMI for 1080p flat panel TVs.

Just when we all got familiar with Intel’s popular Core 2 Duo processors, which have the lion’s share of Apple and Windows computers, along comes a new family of Intel chips, codenamed Clarkdale.

They consist of a newly designed processor chip, the i3 and i5 family and they are based on Intel’s new 32 nanometer technology (about 3,000 transistors across a human hair).

To consumers this means smaller, smarter and as it turns out, more powerful and capable computing.

The Clarkdale chips are Intel’s third generation of “i” processors, and the most affordable.

What is great about them?

The 3.33 GHz Core i5-661, Intel sent me to try out for the past month, along with the new Micro ATX Desktop Board DH55TC Media Series motherboard is a veritable package that offers affordable computing for the masses with exciting multimedia capability.

Not just fast processing, with four core hyper-threading but automatic on-demand TurboBoost technology which runs the CPU up to about 10 per cent faster, when needed.

How fast is the 3.33 GHz Core i5-661? In my tests, it outperformed the current Core 2 Duo 8500, even nipping away at Core 2 Quad processors.

What impressed the most though was the integrated graphics, not so much the PC gaming ability, equivalent to a $100 add-on graphics card, but the ability to play HD movies and multi-channel audio formats.

In fact, right-out of the box on default settings, the Blu-ray playback quality on my Samsung 1080p plasma TV was more eye-pleasing off the Clarkdale PC than the image from several Blu-ray consoles I tried on the same Blu-ray Baraka title. The blacks were deeper with richer mid tones and just as sharp and just as smooth.

I used Samsung’s newest internal SH-B083 Blu-ray combo drive (DVD/DL/CD R/RW) as well as LG’s external USB-connected external Blu-ray R/RW combo. Both played movies seamlessly.

Intel’s recommended test Blu-ray titles, Night at the Museum (first one) and Resident Evil Extinction, had challenging scenes with fast camera movement under harsh lighting conditions and wide shot pans. They all passed the muster.

What really impressed was comparing Intel’s fastest “gaming” Core i7 Processor Extreme Edition i-965 3.2 GHz processor equipped with a respectable upper-mid level NVIDIA N-275 graphics card with the new cheaper and simpler Clarkdale technology.

Sure, tasks on the Extreme setup where completed 30% faster, and graphics-intensive games ran at four to six times higher frame rates, but all that, with a processor that costs five times what the i5-661 does and the added $300 for the NVIDIA card, itself a very capable HD-capable GPU.

The Blu-ray looked similar on both computers, but the Clarkdale and DH55TC Media Series motherboard with HDMI out and integrated graphics still won out on smoothness, even a simple end-of-movie credit roll looking noticeably smoother than my gaming machine.

Even more impressive, was running a CPU-intensive PhotoShop action file while playing a Blu-ray movie. The Clarkdale ran the movie smoothly, thanks to the dedicated HD graphics, reserving the traditional part of the CPU for the PhotoShop task. In fact, the CPU barely peeked past 6 per cent when just playing Blu-ray movies, obviously leaving room for more tasks.

In comparison, the Extreme Edition enthusiast gaming PC had glitches running both programs with frequent playback glitches. I doubt most folks would run their PCs the way I did, but these are examples of how much better processors are getting.

The Clarkdale line of processors will offer a selection of i3 and i5 32 nanometre chips for the right job, ranging from full Hyper-Threading and TubroBoost, to plain versions, still faster and more energy efficient, with integrated graphics, for consumers and businesses looking at price value and energy saving performance.

Unless you are an extreme gamer, a quiet and small, shoebox-sized Clarkdale PC, whith CPUs staring at about $100, is all you need for great Windows 7 experience, media playing and uncompromised HD graphics on your flat panel TV. 

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