While the world still waits for notebooks built around Intel's Centrino 2 platform to hit the market in full force, the chipmaker is already looking forward to its next big release. If the latest rumors turn out to be true, Intel needn't look very far, either, as the company is said to be on schedule to launch it's next-generation notebook platform, Calpella, by the the third quarter of 2009.
Calpella parts are expected to be second generation Nehalem chips, and like first generation Nehalem processors, Calpella will deviate from current northbridge and southbridge chipset arrangements, instead integrating the memory controller onto the CPU itself. Citing un-named sources, DigiTimes reports a single integrated chipset codenamed Ibex Peak-M will handle the remaining duties.
Ibex Peak-M will also reportedly support Intel's next-generation Clarskfield and Auburndale CPUs, the latter of which will come with an integrated graphics core setting the stage for a showdown with AMD's upcoming Fusion.
It’s the worst kept secret in the industry: Intel’s next-generation Penryn killer, codenamed Nehalem is just around the corner. We’ve been seeing leaked benchmarks based on early silicon for months, and Nehalem’s Wikipedia page is already packed with unconfirmed specifications. All indications – and this is with more optimizations to come, mind you – is that Nehalem may be a bad mother worthy of having Isaac Hayes pound out a theme song for it.
OK, we get it. It’s going to be fast, but just how difficult is it to build a Nehalem rig? What are the catches? Will the new motherboard and socket require some silly new BTX form factor? To find out, we convinced one of our hardware contacts (who’ll remain unnamed) to let us into its lab so we could finally get our hands on the new chip. There, we were provided with the desktop version of Nehalem – called Bloomfield – and an Intel D58XSO “Smackover” board.
Read on to see how we built the Nehalem rig, and what surprises we encountered along the way!
We’ve been calling Intel’s next-generation CPU family code-named Nehalem a Penryn-killer because, sadly, AMD’s best and brightest have hardly been that. For those who haven’t sifted the sands of the Internet, and picked the brains of OEM’s and hardware vendors for every detail of Intel’s next-gen microarchitecture, here’s your quick primer on Nehalem that’ll make you big man on campus at the next geekfest.
How Many Cores?
Most Nehalem’s will be native quad-core with all four compute cores on the same physical die. Intel says that the design of Nehalem will also let the company build an eight-core version, codenamed Beckton, for servers. Intel also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a multi-chip version so could perhaps see a double-die Beckton with 16 cores as well.
An improved version of HyperThreading will find its way into the core of Nehalem. This improved simultaneous multi-threading, or SMT, will let the OS see a quad-core chip as eight cores. Although some still debate its merit, the implementation of HT in the Pentium 4 generally added 15 percent more performance in multi-threaded applications.
TomsHardware.com is reporting that the originally scheduled launch of Nehalem based Bloomfield processors will be moved up to September. Imagine that, a hardware launch ahead of schedule! The X58 chipsets will launch along with it.
Some early tests of samples of Nehalem show it beating out current processors by 20 to 30 percent. It appears to like overclocking as well with some overclocking tests going to almost 1Ghz over stock. Nehalem ditches the traditional front-side bus (FSB), and instead uses an external multiplier to control the link between CPU core, memory controller, and north-bridge.
This is only going to further mash AMDs toes as their next CPU, Shanghai, doesn’t look promising for catching up to Intel. Unless AMD has a hat trick waiting, we’ll have to wait until San Paolo and Magny-Cours come out in 2010 to see if AMD can catch up. A year and a half is a long time and a lot can happen in the CPU world. With Nehalem looking to come out early, Intel stretches its lead.
Is Nehalem seductive enough to get you to upgrade?
The average user would never dream of paying four figures for a processor, and even today's $1,500 budget boxes can end up being very capable rigs with the right parts selection. Even still, there exists a market for high-end silicon, and Intel's Extreme series always command a premium. But this time around, Intel might be looking to give enthusiasts a break.
Rumor has it that Intel will serve up its delicious 3.2GHz Extreme series Bloomfield processor at just $999 in thousand-unit tray quantities. While that might not appear to be a bargain at first glance, it's a full $500 cheaper compared to the current cream of the crop, the Core 2 Extreme QX9700. If the rumor holds true, the new pricing will mark a return to the way Intel used to price its flagship Extreme model.
Intel is also expected to introduce a performance chip clocked at 2.93GHz at a much easier to swallow $562 price point, and a mainstream model at 2.66GHz for $284.
For those that haven't been following, Intel's much anticipated Bloomfield (Nehalem) processors will introduce a new socket with 1366 pins and finally bring an integrated memory controller to the table.
What sort of crafty tricks can AMD be working on to get them out of their slump? A little poking around finds some juicy details in a report from DailyTech.com on a new socket architecture to support AMD’s planned 8 and 12 core CPUs in 2010. Socket G34 has supplanted the planned G3 socket that was to replace Socket F (1207). As far as AMDs documentation goes, G3 ceased to exist in March 2008.
Socket G34 will support AMDs two new 2nd generation 45nm processors, the 8 core San Paolo, and a monster 12 core now named Magny-Cours. Both of these processors will feature four HyperTransport 3 interconnects, 12MB of L3 cache and 512KB L2 cache per core. AMDs current roadmap claims standard support will include speeds from 800 to 1600 MHz.
DailyTech.com also counted 1974 pin connects on a leaked G34 diagram, which is 767 more pins than AMD's current LGA1207 socket.
2010 is a long time away in computer terms, and anything can happen with company roadmaps. As things stand AMD will launch Shanghai and Intel will launch Nehalem by the end of this year. It doesn’t appear that Shanghai will be a serious contender with Nehalem according to leaked documents from Sun (but you never know until you have the CPUs in hand), so I am expecting status quo in 2009, but hoping for better. However, things look to get interesting in the processor wars in 2010, so we definitely have something to look forward to.
What do you think, is 2010 the year for an AMD comeback?
DreamWorks has decided to drop all of their existing AMD hardware for “future [Intel] chips with multiple processing cores”. According to Tom’s Hardware and Intel spokesman Nick Knupffer, these future chips are referring to the upcoming Nehalem CPU’s and Larabee GPU’s, both of which Intel is hoping to make a splash with in late 2008 to early 2009.
This news comes at the expense of AMD, with whom DreamWorks already had prior contracts. DreamWorks films such as Shrek the Third and Kung Fu Panda were all developed and rendered on multi-core AMD machines and the company was heavily promoting its partnership with AMD as recently as 2007.
“Technology plays a significant role in enabling our artists to tell great stories. By utilizing Intel’s industry-leading computing products, we will create a new and innovative way for moviegoers to experience our films in 3-D” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation.
Exactly what “innovative experience” moviegoers have to look forward to is anyone’s guess but one thing is for sure, this is yet another blow to AMD whose problems only seem to be compiling.
Playing the waiting game often means your proposed upgrade stays stuck in a perpetual limbo, except for those rare times when the next best thing truly is right around the corner. It appears we've reached one of those junctures, and a trifecta of new Nehalem procs already have one foot nudged out the door and ready to run. Keep reading to find out what Intel has planned, and when.