Now that Intels Penryn family has arrived, its time to ask: Whats next?
With all the hype that Intel created around its Penryn line of processors and its switch to 45-nanometer chip manufacturing, the more compelling technology will come in 2008 with a new microarchitecture and an emphasis on mobility, according to several industry analysts.
While Intel will benefit from switching from 65- to 45-nanometer manufacturing, which will allow the chip maker to squeeze more processors onto a wafer and increase its own efficiency and production, analysts say consumers and enterprise customers should stay focused on the Santa Clara, Calif., companys roadmap for the coming year. Many of these upcoming products will focus on mobility, which is increasingly becoming the most important part of the PC market.
"A line shrink is never that exciting and, except for a few feature tweaks, the line shrink really benefits Intel more since it can now get more chips on the same wafer," said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, referring to Intels new manufacturing. "You have some new features with Penryn and there is lower power consumption based on the line shrink, but the real benefit is mostly to [Intel]."
CEO Paul Otellini has said that mobility, whether through notebooks or ultraportable Internet devices, is an important part of the companys future as more customers demand technology that they can take with them. By 2009, IDC predicts laptop shipments will outstrip desktop sales, making a stable mobile platform critical for customers.
In 2008, after introducing more Penryn processors for servers, desktops and workstations, Intel will roll out its new "Montevina" mobile platform that will use 45-nm processors and a new technology called "Eco Peak," which will incorporate both Wi-Fi and WiMax technology. For customers, this will mean laptops that use Intels new 25-watt processors, which should increase battery life while allowing notebooks to run much cooler.
In addition, Intel will introduce a new processor called Silverthorne, which it plans to incorporate into MIDs, or mobile Internet devices. Silverthorne is also a low-volt chip and looks to offer the same performance-per-watt capabilities as the chips in Montevina.
While these are important stepping stones, Jim McGregor, an analyst at the InStat Group, said the even more impressive technology will be "Moorestown," a mobile platform that will include SOC (system on a chip) technology, which will integrate CPU, graphics, video and a memory controller on a single 45-nm processor. Intel promises this platform will use 10 times less power than its other mobile platforms.
"The fact that Intel is getting its TDP [thermal design power] to 25 watts is important, but there is really no performance difference," McGregor said. "Silverthorne gets Intel part of the way there, but the real difference is going to be when Nehalem [Intels new microarchitecture] comes out along with Moorestown and you have some of those SOC capabilities. That is going to be really important."
Nehalem, which Intel will introduce by the end of 2008, will allow Intel to offer between one and eight cores on its processors and up to 16 instructional threads, which will allow multithreaded software to take advantage of the power of these chips. The new architecture will also allow for an integrated memory controller called QuickPath Interconnect. Advanced Micro Devices, Intels main rival, already uses an integrated memory controller with its Opteron processors.
The integrated memory controller increases the available memory bandwidth to the processor and reduces latency, which should increase the performance of a server and allow applications to run much faster and much more efficiently.
"With the integrated memory controller, Intel can say that they closed the gap with AMD," Kay said.
Overall, Kay said the Nehalem architecture will allow the processors to offer better performance within the same thermal envelope, which should lead to better electrical costs when running a range of hardware from high-end servers to consumer laptops. The industry can expect more details about Nehalem throughout 2008.