Intel to Launch 8-Core Nehalem for Servers

SAN FRANCISCO — Intel’s Core i7 processor, a.k.a. Nehalem, hosted its coming out party at a dockside studio near some old warehouses that are so out of the way, they’re in.

But the bigger news about Intel’s latest launch in the processor family is set to come long after the hip event launch here.

Although the event emphasized how the chips perform in high-end desktops that cost $2,000 or more, company executives told that powerful new servers with the processors are slated for early next year.

Starting in 2009, Intel will roll out a variety of Nehalem-based processors that cover mid-range desktops, notebooks, and servers.

Topping things off will be a monster 8-way, eight-core server design, the Nehalem EX, which will provide 64 cores, or 128 threads of processing power. The core increase represents a four-fold growth in processing power.

The Core i7 also marks the return of hyperthreading , a technology Intel introduced with the Pentium 4 but dropped when it went multi-core.

The Hyperthreading feature that is in the Core i7 allows a single processor core to run two simultaneous threads, effectively letting a single core pretend it was two cores. To a Windows system, that’s how a Pentium 4 looked, like a two processor system.

Intel decided to bring it back for Core i7 because “Hyperthreading is the most power efficient feature we could add. It gives most performance for the lowest power draw,” said Rob Cooke, general manager of the Business Client Group at Intel during a question and answer session yesterday.

Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group, told the crowd at the event the Nehalem design contains 731 million transistors. By contrast, the 80486 processor, which he designed from start to finish, had just one million transistors.

Gelsinger echoed this requirement for power efficiency. “From the ground up, this is a new microarchitecture focused on energy efficient technology. In past designs, if it gave us performance but it wasn’t power efficient, we still put it in. With Nehalem, it had to be energy efficient or we didn’t put it in [the design],” he told the crowd.

In addition to a steady rollout of Nehalem chips next year, Intel expects to begin moving to the 32 nanometer design process by the end of the year. A die shrink means lower power draw and greater performance for a CPU.

Core i7 is an entirely new design for Intel, one that eliminates the front side bus architecture. Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has used this design literally since the x86 architecture made its debut. It is a separate physical chip that serves as a controller between the CPU and memory.

Intel’s rival AMD (NYSE: AMD) did away with the front side bus architecture in its Athlon architecture in 2003, and has taunted Intel about it ever since. As it turns out, Intel had been working on Nehalem since 2003; so it wasn’t slow to embrace the on-chip memory controller, just slow to get it out.

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