Intel introduced new processors this week, one of the fundamental upgrades that is going to change the whole industry in the next couple of months.

Remember when we used to talk about Intel processors? In the early days, each new generation sparked endless conversation about the differences between 80286 and 386 and 486 processors, about whether the cheaper price made Celerons a better deal than Pentiums, about the motherboards and processors that were best for overclocking.

But at some point it became impossible to keep up. Pentium II, Pentium III, Pentium 4, Pentium M, Core 2, quad core – new models, new names, rolled out relentlessly. When the Core 2 processors were introduced in 2006, Intel completely mucked up the marketing, making it impossible to identify the new processors reliably – which was a shame, because the Core 2 processors truly represented a giant step forward.

We used to be able to compare processors by the speeds but Intel took that away by using numbers that had no relationship to each other from one model to another – there’s absolutely no way to know if a Core 2 E8500 (6Mb, 3.16Ghz) is faster or slower than a Core 2 Q9550 (12Mb, 2.83Ghz), to pick a random example from Dell’s web site tonight. Meanwhile, AMD came up with names and speeds that had no relationship to anything. I’ve never been able to figure out anything about AMD’s processors.

It will be easier to identify the next generation of Intel processors, introduced this week. The Core i5 and Core i7 processors are another huge leap forward – more efficient, more powerful, better at doing the technical chores that run computers, and far cheaper than the previous generation of high-end processors. There are a lot of technical details in this article, and an overview from PC Magazine here.

Today these processors are only available on a handful of models, like Dell’s Studio XPS 8000 and 9000 models. I expect to see them in many mainstream computers when Windows 7 is launched at the end of October, and my guess is that they will be the dominant processors on the market in a year, maybe less.

This is not important for offices running Outlook and Word. Processor power means very little on many office computers.

This is important and should be one of the items on your checklist if:

You don’t want your new computer to feel obsolete in a year or two.

You’re buying a computer for home use.

You may do any work with photos or video.

The computer may be used to play games.

You’re under 35.

In a couple of months we’ll get new computers running Windows 7, with new processors matched with motherboards that leverage them to do things more efficiently. There will be a new generation of netbooks, and new ultra-thin notebooks. Affordable solid-state drives will be hitting the market. The next generation of cloud services will seem so natural that you’ll start using them without particularly realizing it.

I’m excited. We’re on the verge of the most interesting time in this industry in a decade.

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