RealTime IT News

Meeting Intel's Future Processor Family

SAN FRANCISCO – Intel today offered a look inside its next generation of processors, the Nehalem family, with new details and demos during the Intel Developer Forum (IDF). Nehalem was the code name for the processor, which Intel recently dubbed officially as the Core i7.

The Penryn family of processors fades into the sunset with Dunnington, the six-core Xeon server processor that Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) began shipping to OEM partners in July. It will appear in systems in September. The official product name is Xeon 7400.

Penryn is certainly going out in a big way. Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of the Digital Enterprise group, showed some record high benchmarks, including the first TPCC benchmark to break the one million mark for transaction processing. An IBM eight-socket server scored 1.2 million in a TPC-C benchmark, a means of measuring server performance by measuring how many online transactions can be performed in a set period.

Gelsinger also discussed the improved virtualization technology in Nehalem. One of the major problems for virtual environments is the bottleneck of I/O, which consumes a lot of CPU power as the CPU plays traffic cop. Nehalem addressed this with VT-d, a direct path to the hardware that lets the virtualization software share physical devices directly, reducing CPU overhead.

Power management on Nehalem will be better than today's systems because the old gate technology that attempted to shut off unused cores was lacking. It didn't address voltage leak, which is the main cause of power drain.

Nehalem's Integrated Power Gate technology will take voltage down to zero when the core is idle. A "power switch" was built into the chip silicon to handle this. Each core is handled independently, similar to AMD's Phenom and Quad Core Opteron. Gelsinger noted that the one million transistors in the Integrated Power Gate "is more than my 486!"

Intel did disclose one major new customer: NASA. The Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., has begun construction of a massive supercomputer based on Itanium chips called Pleiades. At the time of announcement, NASA was unsure if it would use Nehalem, but Gelsinger said the chip would be used to build out what will be a one petaflop supercomputer. The Nehalem architecture is not planned for Itanium, but NASA has said the Pleiades supercomputer could handle a mix of processors.

What's coming in mobile

Gelsinger also discussed mobility, saying the company has scored more than 700 design engagements for Atom, its new ultra mobile/embedded processor, and most are new businesses for them in medical, entertainment and defense industries. One demo involved a BMW on the stage with DVD players and a navigation system that provides information as you drive.

David "Dadi" Perlmutter, executive vice president of the Mobility group, took over to further the mobile discusson. He said that there would be a Nehalem family for laptops, codenamed Capella, then promptly informed the audience that that information would be reserved for the next IDF, which takes place in April 2009 in China.

Perlmutter announced that Intel will release a small form factor Centrino 2 processor for very small devices later this year. The chips would shrink from 45 millimeters in size to around 20 millimeters. One is already on the market in the MacBook Air from Apple. More can be expected in the coming months, he said.

There was a lengthy talk about WiMAX, which will be launched in Q4 by Intel and several broadband partners, including ClearWire, Comcast Cable and Time Warner. Baltimore, Maryland will be the first city to get it. Intel is promising 15 megabits (Mbps) per second wireless access in your car while driving.