Intel on Monday will begin shipping its Penryn line of processors to computer makers, who are all expected to announce system availability as well. On the outside, Penryn isn’t a huge change to the Core 2/Xeon line of desktop and server processors, but underneath it all, it’s a huge change for Intel.
For starters, it marks the beginning of the end of the silicon dioxide layer that gave the Silicon Valley its nickname. In January, Intel announced a new manufacturing process involving the element Hafnium, which helped better control the electrical leakage as Intel was shrinking its processors.
The silicon dioxide layer in the processor had been whittled down to just five atoms, causing the electrical leakage. That in turn caused the heat. “If there is no leakage and all the current is absolutely used to process instructions, you wouldn’t even need a heat sink, but there will always be leakage,” explained George Alfs, a spokesman for Intel.
“We’ve reinvented the transistor,” he added. “We’ve really improved the ability of this processor to reduce leakage significantly, resulting in cooler processors.” InternetNews.com‘s sister site, Sharky Extreme, which does performance testing, found the new Penryn desktop processor to be much cooler than its predecessors.
Silicon isn’t the only element getting bounced from the Intel processor family. So are lead and halogen compounds. Lead, which conducts electricity very well, is being phased out of the line. Intel chips are currently five percent lead but that is being removed and replaced with a tin/silver/copper alloy. Halogen was used as a fire retardant, and that will be removed in 2008, making the chips much more eco-friendly.
Monday’s launch features one desktop chip, the top of the line $999 QX9650, and 12 quad-core Xeon processors in the 5400 line, which will range in price from $177 to $1279 in quantities of 1,000. These new chips will have clock speeds ranging from 2GHz up to 3.20GHz, with front side bus speeds (FSB) up to 1600MHz, and cache sizes of up to 12MB. They will be second on the Intel Xeon product tree, behind only the 7300 multiprocessor line.
Intel is also releasing a new chipset for the 5400 that is optimized for high-bandwidth applications like high performance computing and the Intel 5100 Memory Controller Hub chipset and Intel ICH-9R I/O controller.
The Xeons will also feature enhanced Intel virtualization technology to improve virtual machine transition (entry/exit) times by an average of 25 to 75 percent through hardware with no changes to software required.
Intel will release three mid-range dual-core Xeon 5200 processors in December. The bulk of desktop processors, including mobile chips, will come in the first quarter of 2008.
In-Stat analyst Jim McGregor said the Penryn line is a good mid-life bump for the Core architecture. “They are not standing still at all,” he told InternetNews.com. “They are on schedule, meeting their expectations, it has a faster fronside bus, offers power savings and runs cooler. But next year will be a lot more interesting with Nehalem and Silverthorne.”
He added this puts increased pressure on AMD to match performance. “Intel, despite not having an integrated memory controller, continue to enhance their processor core and remain very, very competitive, and this is just one step away from when they will be with Nehalem, and that’s going to have everything but the kitchen sink.
“AMD really hasn’t shown a lot of innovation as of late,” he added.