Smaller, Better Faster: Intel to Hit with 32nm CPUs This Year


I fought the law and the law won. Moore’s Law that is. As proof, Intel on Tuesday demonstrated both desktop and mobile CPUs running an OS using a new 32nm process some of which are due as early as this year. Intel’s updated roadmap for performance desktop, mainstream desktop and mobile features a few new twists and turns from the company’s accelerated 32nm process.

Intel updated its public roadmap of the 32nm “Westmere” family. Like the switch from Conroe to Penryn, Westmere is a smaller “tick” that offers some upgrades from the current 45nm Nehalem CPUs.

An Arrandale CPU reference platform with integrated GPU running EA’s Spore.

Power users

The current 45nm Bloomfield/Core i7 will get a boost early next year when Intel introduces the 32nm Gulftown. Gulftown will feature six cores with HyperThreading for a total of 12 threads exposed to the OS. It will come in LGA1366 and is expected – but not guaranteed – to work in most of today’s Core i7 motherboards. A new chipset will be introduced alongside it and supersede the X58 chipset. Clock speeds, cache sizes were not announced but it will include (as will all Westmere-based CPUs) include new instructions to accelerate encryption/decryption.  There have been rumors that Intel would bring its Nehalem EX chip, which will feature eight cores with HyperThreading, but it’s unlikely with Gulftown on tap. Nehalem EX will likely live only in servers and workstations.

Desktop mainstream

Intel’s plans for its mainstream CPUs take a considerable turn with the new roadmap. It’s been known for some time that Intel would introduce a quad-core, HyperThreaded CPU codenamed Lynnfield this year and there are no changes here. The 45nm-based Lynnfield will fit into a new LGA1156 socket, and feature dual-channel DDR3, an integrated memory controller and integrated PCI Express in the CPU core. Current Bloomfield/Nehalem’s and the future Westmere/Gulfstream, feature high-speed QPI interfaces to the chipset and PCI-Express graphics cards. Lynnfield, on the other hand, will use the relatively slow Direct Media Interface that has been around since the days of the Pentium 4 to move I/O data to the optical drives and hard drives.

Where it gets truly confusing is in the integrated graphics department. Intel had planned to introduce a dual-core 45nm CPU code-named Havendale alongside Lynnfield that included graphics under the heat spreader. Like Penryn’s multi-chip design, a separate graphics core would have lived under the heat spreader with a 45nm CPU. With the 32nm process going gang busters, Intel said it has “deprioritized” Havendale in favor of a new chip named Clarkdale.

Meet Clarkdale

The 32nm Clarkdale will also be dual-core, and feature a graphics core under the spreader. Interestingly, Intel will reuse the 45nm graphics core with a newer 32nm process CPU. Intel also disclosed a little more information on the design of Clarkdale. It had been widely been assumed that the integrated memory controller in the CPU core would be used to connect to the RAM, but the IMC will actually be integrated into the graphic core. For the CPU to touch the RAM, it will have to go through the QPI interface. Intel didn’t disclose the QPI speeds but said it will vary depending on the clock speed of the CPU.

Clarkdale should actually be the first 32nm CPU to hit later this year and to prove it, Intel demonstrated a Clarkdale running a game and OS on Tuesday. The computing power of Clarkdale will likely be what you expect: a dual-core Core i7 but the graphics performance is the $100,000 question. Although it is unfair to make any performance assumptions based on it considering the immature silicon and drivers, the game Intel showed off certainly didn’t blow our socks off. Running Electronic Art’s Red Alert 3 at 1024x768 and not even max graphics settings, it didn’t inspire confidence.

LGA1156 details

Lynnfield will require discrete graphics and LGA1156 will support up to one x16 PCI-E 2.0 connection. Intel said that the design of LGA1156 will not allow two x16 PCI-E 2.0 connections, but it can be split into two x8 connections for multi-GPU configurations.

An Intel reference board with the new LGA1156 socket and dual-channel DDR3 support.

LGA1156 will be similar in size to LGA775 and may or may not be compatible with existing LGA775 heat spreaders. Intel said it was still working out whether it would require a new heat spreader design for Clarkdale and Havendale as the thermal’s of the newer CPUs may require a different design.

Intel said it will have two different platform designs for the mainstream parts: Piketon for the business-class desktop machines and Kings Creek for consumer desktops.


A notebook PC running Intel’s upcoming 32nm Arrandale CPU.

Mobile will see a similar change as the desktop mainstream parts. This year, we should expect a quad-core notebook running the 45nm Clarksfield CPU. Like Lynfield, Clarksfield will have HyperThreading, direct attach PCI-Express 2.0 and an integrated memory controller. Some months after Clarksfield is released though, the 32nm Arrandale will hit with graphics under the heat spreader too. Intel demonstrated a notebook PC running Arrandale as well as a reference system running Spore. Arrandale will supplant the “deprioritized’ Auburndale as well.

Confused? We are too so here’s a cheat sheet to help you:

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