Intel to focus on next generation of chips

Intel will talk about chips based on the Westmere architecture for laptops, desktops and servers

Intel will focus on its next generation of smaller and faster chips at a conference next month as it prepares to ship new chips for systems in 2010.

Intel plans to shed more light on the Westmere architecture at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), which will be held Sept. 22-24 in San Francisco. The company is expected to talk about the architecture behind its future chips for servers, laptops and desktops.

Chips based on Westmere will be made using the advanced 32-nanometer process and should deliver performance and power benefits over existing Intel chips made using the 45-nm process. Initial chips will integrate a CPU and graphics processor in a single package, which could improve graphics performance while drawing less power.

A server zone at IDF will focus on the Westmere-EP platform, where performance of server chips based on the new architecture will be highlighted. The company is expected to talk about many chip features, including security capabilities, and could show off systems at the show.

The first Westmere chips will go into laptops and desktops as early as the first half of 2010. Initial Westmere chips will be dual-core CPUs with 4MB of cache, and will include an integrated memory controller. Clock speeds could remain similar to existing processors, but performance could see a boost by running two threads on each core, Intel officials have said.

Initial Westmere-based laptop chips, code-named Arrandale, could preserve battery life while improving graphics performance. The desktop chips are code-named Clarkdale. The chips are expected to go into production in the fourth quarter this year, though samples have already shipped to laptop and desktop PC makers for testing.

The Westmere architecture is the basis of some of Intel's future laptop and desktop chips, including the Core i3, i5 and 7 chips, wrote Ken Kaplan in a blog entry on Intel's Web site on Wednesday.

The chip package's CPU will be made using the advanced 32-nanometer manufacturing process. The graphics processor will be made using the 45-nm process.

Westmere is a process shrink of Intel's current Nehalem microarchitecture, which forms the basis of the existing Core i7 high-end desktop and Xeon 5500 server chips. Nehalem integrates a memory controller with the CPU and provides a fast pipeline for processors and system components to communicate.

Nehalem was a big architectural shift as it was Intel's first microprocessor with an integrated memory controller, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. But early systems based on Nehalem were expensive with prices above $US1,000.

"Westmere is going to let the [Nehalem] architecture be much more broadly used," McCarron said. The process shrink lowers the cost of production for Intel, which could help push the chip design to inexpensive systems, he said.

Intel revamped its chip road map in February, saying it would move to a 32-nanometer process more quickly than it had originally planned. The company would spend $US7 billion over the next two years to revamp manufacturing plants in order to reduce manufacturing costs while increasing production.

Intel may also focus on the Larrabee chip during the show, McCarron said. Larrabee will include many cores and combine processing capabilities of graphics processing units with the x86 architecture, improving application and graphics performance.

The chip - being called a graphics processor - is targeted at the gaming market and industries that require high-end parallel processing and graphics power, like oil and gas exploration..

"This will probably be the last IDF till Larrabee launches," McCarron said. Intel has said it would ship Larrabee in early 2010.

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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