Intel is planning to devote most of its energy at IDF on detailing the features behind its processor microarchitecture dubbed "Nehalem," including a new brand name for this upcoming family of desktop chips.
Intel is expected to officially brand the processors that will be built on the Nehalem architecture as Intel Core on Aug. 11. The first set of these microprocessors will be offered for gaming machines and high-end PCs, and the first processor will be an Extreme Edition chip called the Intel Core i7.
"The Core name is and will be our flagship PC processor brand going forward," said Sean Maloney, Intel's executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.
While Intel has focused most of its energy this year to bring its Atom processors to market to support whole new classes of devices, from low-cost "netbooks" to MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices), Nehalem is expected to be the biggest announcement the chip maker makes in 2008, and it will radically alter the company's approach to its chip microarchitecture.
Nehalem will allow Intel to create processors that can scale from two to eight cores. Each core supports two instructional threads that will then allow the chips to perform several tasks simultaneously. Intel will also introduce a new technology called QuickPath, a high-speed chip-to-chip interconnect technology that will allow the Nehalem family of processors to connect to another component or another chip on the motherboard.
Perhaps the greatest improvement with Nehalem is that Intel will integrate the memory controller-the part of the CPU that communicates with the DDR (double data rate) memory chips-into the processor die itself, which eliminates the traditional FSB (front side bus). This type of integration will allow for greater levels of performance without increasing the clock speed of the processor, which should also keep the thermal envelope the same as the previous generation.
"When you go to an integrated memory controller, you reduce a substantial portion of the memory latency between the processor, and the system memory and typically the initial access memory latency is a big determinant of performance," said Dean McCarron, founder of Mercury Research. "Typically, you can get a performance increase of anywhere between 10 and 25 percent when you fix that latency problem."
Advanced Micro Devices has been building processors with an integrated memory controller for a number of years now, and that chip design helped AMD close the gap between its processors and Intel's chips, McCarron said. Now, Intel is catching up and will eliminate one of the technological advantages AMD has enjoyed.
"When AMD introduced the integrated memory controller, it allowed them close the gap between them and Intel very rapidly," McCarron added. "With Intel doing this, the performance gains will probably not be as great as what happened with their competitor because Intel has fairly large caches, which cover up part of that problem. There is little question, however, that making this move results in substantially higher performance gains with no increase in clock rate, so you are getting more performance at the same clock speed."