AMD Shows Off 45nm Chips

AMD demonstrated its first 45nm processor designs at the giant CeBit trade show in Hanover, Germany this week and said it is on track to release 45nm processors in the second half of this year.

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) made the move to 45nm late last year and in the process switched its manufacturing process, dropping the silicon dioxide that gave the Silicon Valley its name and instead using hafnium oxide. This reduced leakage in the chips and lowered the heat they gave off in the process.

AMD (NYSE:AMD) has its own high-k metal gate technology via its semiconductor partner IBM. However, it is not going to the new hafnium design with these processors, at least not initially.

This is typical of AMD, which does not make too many major changes at once. Intel, for example, went to 45nm and high-k metal gate at the same time, which is a major effort. For the smaller AMD, it typically makes one change at a time, notes Jim McGregor, senior analyst with In-Stat.

In this case, AMD’s going to 45nm first and said moving to a new material, hafnium, will come later. McGregor said for now, AMD doesn’t have to make the transition to hafnium. “At 45 nanometers, you’re not at that physics brick wall where you can’t do it, but getting to metal gates eventually is required,” he told “As you get to smaller design processes like 32nm and 22nm, you absolutely need it [hafnium] because the smaller you get the more leakage you get.”

The first chips to sport the new 45nm design are a quad-core desktop codenamed “Deneb” and a Quad Core Opteron server chip called “Shanghai.” Kevin Knox, vice president of worldwide business marketing for AMD, called Shanghai “the most significant architecture change since Opteron.”

A shrink in die size means more room for transistors, and AMD will take advantage of that. It will have 6MB of L2 cache, triple the 2MB now (four 512MB caches, one for each core). That with a bump in clock speed should improve performance, which was one of the knocks on early generation Quad Core Opterons.

While the processor side will feature a minor bump in performance, AMD’s other announcement today has serious potential as far as McGregor was concerned. AMD announced the 780G chipset, sporting hybrid graphics technology, so a PC can use either the graphics in the 780G or a discrete graphics card, or both.

With a 780G, one machine can power four monitors, two by the chipset and two by the video card. It has native high definition decoders, supports DirectX 10.1 and can support up to six Serial ATA drives and 12 USB 2.0 ports. Best of all, its power draw is only 15 watts, so it can be used in notebooks as well as desktops. “This is impressive… this is where the innovation is coming from AMD,” said McGregor.

Erin Joyce contributed to this article.

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