For much of the last decade, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) talked a pretty good game about how it's trying to move beyond the days when it tried to sell its microprocessors to consumers and businesses primarily by touting their raw performance, often while using tech jargon that flew over the heads of consumers … to move beyond the days when it cared more about enabling less power-hungry desktop and notebook systems, and addressing the real-life performance needs of PC users -- especially for multimedia applications. For the first time, it looks like the company's actions are living up to its words.

To be fair, Intel did make steady progress over the previous decade in improving the power efficiency (i.e., power consumption relative to performance) of its mainstream processors, starting with the release of its Pentium M notebook processors in 2003 and continuing with the release of its first Core 2 Duo processors in 2006. But Intel's Nehalem chip architecture, which is behind the Core i7, i5, and i3 processors that it's released over the last 14 months, takes this commitment to low power a step further. Thanks to integrated power management circuitry on each processor, systems based on the least power-hungry Nehalem desktop platform (Lynnfield) have been tested as consuming less than 30% as much power in idle mode as comparable Core 2 Quad systems -- or, for that matter, competing desktop systems from AMD (NYSE:AMD). All while delivering better performance for the multimedia apps needed to drive demand for these higher-end chips.

Clarkdale and Arrandale rewrite the rules
Intel's goal with Nehalem wasn't just to further improve power efficiency, however, and its most recent chip announcements bear this out. The company's Clarkdale and Arrandale platforms, respectively targeted at the mainstream desktop and notebook markets, mark a transition where Intel has integrated a graphics processor within the same chip package as a microprocessor, rather than on a motherboard chipset. By doing this, Intel can both bring down system costs, and in the case of Arrandale, allow for thinner, lighter notebook systems to be built.

But how do these built-in graphics processors perform, you might ask? That might be the best part. Benchmarks showed huge improvements over Intel's chipset-based integrated graphics platforms for graphics-related tasks, including gains above 100% in some gaming benchmarks. These chips still won't remove the need for discrete graphics from the likes of NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) and AMD's ATI division for anyone who's serious about gaming or graphics rendering, but they should produce a much better multimedia experience for business users, or consumers relying on a console for most of their gaming needs. And even if a notebook uses discrete graphics, the fact that Arrandale can switch to integrated graphics for less demanding tasks should help out with battery life.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) rely on Clarkdale's graphics in future versions of the Mac Mini, or on Arrandale's in plain-vanilla MacBooks, rather than the discrete processors that it currently uses. And it could make sense for the likes of HP (NYSE:HPQ), Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), and Sony (NYSE:SNE) to rely on Arrandale's graphics in mainstream "thin and light" consumer notebook models, rather than just the business and low-end consumer notebooks that integrated graphics are typically used on.

Less power consumption, lower systems costs, thinner and lighter hardware, better multimedia performance for the average Joe. I'd say that those make for much better selling points than some arcane techspeak about front-side bus speeds and cache sizes. And they could also deliver a 2010 sales boost for Intel.

Eric Jhonsa has no position in any of the companies mentioned. Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Apple and NVIDIA are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Intel is a Motley Fool Options Buy Calls recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.