Intel details next-next generation CPU


Intel will take threading to the next level next year with its next-generation CPU, codenamed Nehalem, which will feature up to eight cores. The big news is that each core comes equipped with a Hyper-Threading-like technology that will expose 16 execution cores to the OS. The new chip, which Intel says is the most massive CPU redesign for the company since the Pentium Pro more than a decade ago, may also feature an integrated memory controller, chip-to-chip interconnect and integrated performance graphics.

Nehalem is part of the company’s new “tick-tock” philosophy, which lays out a minor upgrade and then a major upgrade to its CPUs every other generation. You can also think of tick tock as a combination punch--first a jab at AMD and then a straight right to the face. Nehalem, due in 2008, will be what the company’s hopes is the knock out punch that leaves AMD eating canvas but the jab is looking fairly powerful as well.

Before Nehalem is Penryn

Intel's Conroe-replacement, Penryn, will run at speeds topping 3GHz and feature a giant 6MB L2 cache, which takes up about half the die space.

Code-named Penryn, Intel revealed more details of the chip that will replace the Conroe. Penryn will ship in excess of 3GHz, feature a 6MB L2 cache (versus Conroe’s 4MB L2) and include numerous under the hood enhancements--including faster virtual machine performance, a new SSE4 instruction set, and a technique called Radix 16. Radix 16, the company says, will double the division math in the chip for any application that uses division.

Penryn will also feature another technique called “dynamic acceleration technology.” Intel described DAT as the ability increase the performance of one core when the other is not being tapped. If the second core is idle, the first core can be clocked to higher speeds, which would mostly impact games and applications that do not support multi-threading.

Digital imaging and video editing will also get an additional boost through a new “super shuffle engine.” Intel says Penryn will be able to perform 128-bit shuffles in a single cycle, which will increase performance on any SSE2, SSE3 or SSE4 instructions and will offer a boost without requiring any software rewrites or even recompiles.

All this, Intel says, adds up to a CPU that’s quite a bit faster than its existing chips which are already acknowledge to be far in front of the competition. Intel said a Penryn will outperform a 2.93 Core 2 Extreme by 20 percent in games and 40 percent in video encoding. The fastest Conroe-based Xeon will get spanked by 45 percent in high performance computing loads when compared to a Penryn-family based Xeon, the company said. Like Intel’s current generation quad-cores, the Penryn will be a native dual-core processor, while Penryn-based quad-core chips will sport two dies joined under the CPU lid.

Penryn is officially on the roadmap to start production at the end of the year with ship dates in the first quarter of 2008; however, Intel has stressed that the launch is quite flexible. That’s likely due to AMD’s imminent release of its quad-core CPUs (codenamed Barcelona) for servers and Agena FX for desktops. AMD has done some bragging on its own already and said that Barcelona is 40 percent faster than the fastest Xeon chips in some workloads.

Intel has demonstrated running Penryn machines for some months and on Wednesday, it again, showed off a Penryn CPU running games and applications. The CPU was disclosed to be running at 3.33GHz on a 1,333MHz front-side bus. The move to a 1,333MHz front-side bus for desktop chips has been expected for some time but desktop machines will continue to lag behind their workstation counterparts. When 1,333 front-side bus desktop CPUs are released, Intel will migrate the Xeon family over to a 1,600MHz front-side bus.

Intel's new integrated graphics

On the graphics front, Intel didn’t lay out all the details of its new integrated solution, but did say that it will not be integrated directly into the core itself. That likely means that the company will pair a CPU core alongside a GPU core in its upcoming chips. Although labeled high-performance graphics, the company is aiming its integrated GPU directly at mainstream users--gamers can continue ignoring intergrated. AMD has plans to integrate graphics directly into the CPU socket or perhaps into a neighboring socket as well.

Although most of the news concerned desktop and workstation parts, Intel did disclosed that the mobile version of Penryn will feature an even deeper power savings mode, which will make significant power consumption reductions with the new CPU.

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