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Intel Maps Out Shift to More Efficient 32nm CPUs

Intel integrated chips

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- In discussing the company's dismal fourth quarter of 2008, Intel CEO Paul Otellini swore the company would move forward with research and development projects, stating that the company could not emerge from this recession with "yesterday's products."

Today, he and the company made good on that promise. Otellini announced the company plans to invest $7 billion over the next two years to build advanced manufacturing facilities at three separate locations in the United States to make the 32-nanometer (nm) manufacturing technology.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has good reason to invest so much in 32nm technology. Its future, at least for several years, is built on 32nm. The company today gave a detailed outline of its plans, involving both future products based on its Nehalem platform, as well as the transition to Westmere, the 32nm version.

Intel follows a two-part cycle -- what it calls a "tick-tock" model. The "tock" represents the release of a new architecture, while the next update -- the "tick" -- is a shrink of that architecture. Previously, it introduced the Conroe architecture (tock), where the Core 2 came out, and then shrunk it to 45nm for the Penryn generation (tick).

Nehalem, branded as Core i7, is the latest tock, and was introduced late last year. This year's tick is Westmere, which takes Nehalem down from 45nm to 32nm.

Steve Smith, vice president and director of group operations in the digital enterprise group at Intel, said that Westmere processors would run at a "similar" clock speed as today's processors, but would still offer more performance thanks to the addition of Hyper-Threading, which runs two threads per core.

It will also benefit from the addition of TurboBoost, a technology that turns off unneeded cores when handling a task that can't take advantage of them. In return, it adds extra speed to the working cores.

Further ahead

The news today doesn't mean the end of Nehalem on 45nm, though. So far, just three 45nm Nehalem parts are on the market, aimed at the upper-middle to high-end, with more on the way, Intel said.

Later this year will see the release of two new lines of Core i7, codenamed "Lynnfield" and "Clarksfield." Lynnfield will be a mainstream desktop product, while Clarksfield is for laptops. Both will be quad-core chips with Hyper-Threading, so they can run two threads per core.

In 2010, Intel plans for a six-core/12-thread processor for high-end desktops, codenamed "Gulftown." It did not give further details.

From there, though, things go to 32nm and become integrated, with graphics processors becoming baked into the CPU -- similar to AMD's "Fusion" design. "Clarkdale" and "Arrandale" are mainstream desktop and laptop parts, respectively, built on the 32nm design process. However, these chips will have integrated 45nm graphics processors as well.

The end result should improve performance across the board, as both the CPU and graphics processor will have access to memory on short latency because they are on the same package, according to Smith.

[cob:Special_Report]This means the end of two previously-planned processors, Havendale and Auburndale. They were intended to be 45nm parts with integrated graphics. Instead, Intel decided to make the jump right to a 32nm CPU core.

Smart move, said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow for Insight 64.

"They needed Havendale and Auburndale because they didn't want to bet the farm on 32nm being ready to go in volume. What if it slipped a bit? Then they wouldn't have a low-cost offering based on Nehalem for laptop and desktop. But because Nehalem looked so good, they didn't need the backup plan, so they scrubbed it," he told InternetNews.com.

Servers and chipsets, oh my!

On the server side of things, Intel will stick with its single-, dual- and quad-socket product lines, all based on Nehalem. The single-socket Xeon line, the 3000 series, will use the Lynnfield processor before getting a 32nm shrink in 2010.

The two-socket Xeon 5000 series will see the release of the Nehalem-EP processor this year, followed by a 32nm shrink in 2010. Late this year will come the Nehalem-EX, an eight-core processor for four-socket, 7000-series servers. All three lines will use the same sockets and chipsets during the 45nm-to-32nm migration, so they can be upgraded from older processors to new.

Something all of the Nehalem/Westmere families have in common, from laptop to Xeon server, is the 5-series chipset. With the memory controller moving onto the CPU and the Westmere gaining the graphics capabilities, the chipset will become rather consistent across all of the products. The 5 series has the display interface and microcontroller and computation built in for vPro -- Intel's remote management feature -- so not a lot is needed from the chipset.

To Brookwood, that approach "is really pretty slick.

"Although the form factor will differ, you can have that same logic on desktops, laptops and servers," he said. "This simplifies life for everybody downstream of the chip guy. They all will see a much more coherent and consistent environment than they've ever seen before."