Intel on Wednesday released its fastest laptop processor to date, also setting the stage to release its next generation of chips for mainstream laptops.

The new Core i7 processors are Intel's first laptop chips based on the Nehalem microarchitecture, and include many enhancements that allow the processors to outperform existing Core 2 laptop processors. The quad-core processors are targeted at high-performance gaming laptops and business workstations.

The Nehalem microarchitecture is considered a significant upgrade over Intel's earlier microarchitectures, as it cuts bottlenecks to improve overall system speed and performance-per-watt. The new chips are also able to shut down dormant cores and move the extra processing power to active cores. The technology, called Turbo Boost, can boost chip speeds up to 3.33GHz depending on the power drawn by the laptops.

Intel introduced three Core i7 processors on Wednesday. The Core i7 920XM will run at 2.0GHz, with up to 8MB of cache. The Core i7-820QM will run at 1.73GHZ, with 8MB of cache. The Core i7-720QM will run at 1.6GHz and include 6MB of cache. The chips will be made using the 45-nanometer manufacturing process.

The chips' launch also sets the stage for Intel to introduce its next generation of laptop chips based on Nehalem. The company will deliver faster and more power-efficient chips based on Nehalem to budget laptops.

"We are going to bring [Nehalem] technology to the masses early next year," said David Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's architecture group, during a speech on Wednesday at the Intel Developer Forum trade show in San Francisco.

Intel hopes to create more integrated chips that pack even more features as it moves to the latest chip manufacturing process by the end of this year. The company will start making laptop processors using the latest 32-nm process in the fourth quarter. Intel has seen a 30-times reduction in power consumption in 32-nm process chips compared to the 45-nm process.

The first 32-nm chips for budget laptops, code-named Arrandale, will be a significant upgrade to existing Core 2 Duo chips. Arrandale is a two-chip package with an integrated graphics processor, which could help improve graphics performance while drawing less power. The initial chips will come in dual-core configurations with 4MB of cache. The chips allow each core to run two threads simultaneously so more tasks can be run at the same time.

The new chips will be part of the Westmere microarchitecture, which is a shrink of Intel's existing Nehalem microarchitecture. Nehalem provides a faster pipe for the CPU to communicate with system components like a graphics card. Nehalem chips integrate a memory controller onto the chip to provide a faster access path to memory.

PC makers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and Asustek Computer started shipping laptops with the latest Nehalem chips on Wednesday.