Intel is ready to enter the 45-nanometer era. As Intel CEO Paul Otellini detailed in his opening remarks at the 2007 Developer Forum, the company will bring its Penryn family of 45-nanometer processors to market Nov. 12.
The official release will bring 16 new microprocessors to the companys portfolio, including 12 quad-core models, three dual-core chips and one quad-core processor specifically designed for high-end desktops and gaming PCs.
Although Otellinis keynote took some of the suspense out of the debut, the Penryn lineup represents a significant step forward for the Santa Clara, Calif., companys manufacturing abilities. The processors also marks the first time Intel will use its Hafnium-based processor technology that will reduce power leakage—the electricity wasted while the transistors are idle—which will improve the power performance.
The Penryn family, which will continue using Intels Core microarchitecture, will include 12 quad-core Xeon 5400 series processors, previously code-named Harpertown, and three dual-core Xeon 5200 series chips, formally called Wolfdale DP. The final processor is a Core 2 Extreme QX9650 for high-end and gaming desktops.
Additional desktop and notebook processors will follow in the first quarter of 2008, said Stephen Smith, vice president and director of operations at Intels Digital Enterprise Group.
While Penryn represents a major milestone for Intel, many analysts believe the companys next microarchitecture—Nehalem—which is due to arrive in late 2008 and will allow the company to produce processors with up to eight cores, is the real key to Intels future.
"What Penryn does is it allows Intel to increase all the usual stuff, like increasing the cache size and the front side bus," said Jim McGregor, a research director at the InStat Group. "In terms of enhancements to the Core architecture, nothing really stands out. It still remains a killer architecture, but Nehalem is going to be the real show stopper with all the changes that it will bring."
Intel will target its enterprise customers first with Penryn. The new processors will look to boost the performance of applications running on one- and two-socket servers. Although chips for corporate desktops will come later, McGregor said Intel has worked to provide a stable platform for PCs while increasing performance.
"The big picture here is that it is a revolutionary new technology," Smith told eWEEK. "This is the first use of the high-k metal gate technology and the first time that we are shipping processors with this technology to our customers. What we are giving them is a high-performance product within the same thermal envelope, which will be a big benefit to both servers and high-performance clients."
David Driggers, the chief technology officer of Verari System, said his San Diego company will launch a workstation and single-socket server to coincide with the Penryn launch. From his perspective, the new processors and Intel chip sets offer several benefits, including a faster FSB (front side bus), support for DDR3 (double data rate 3) RAM, larger caches and support for second-generation PCI Express, which should improve I/O.
"Theres also not a huge price bump," Driggers said. "Intel can manufacture more of these processors onto a wafer and it allows them to sell the chips for lower prices and still make money. Its a very cost effective product."
The switch to 45-nanometer—a nanometer is one billionth of a meter—will allow Intel to save on manufacturing costs since it can now squeeze more Penryn processors onto a 300 millimeter wafer than it could with 65-nanometers processors. Intel also plans a quick 45-nanometer ramp and Intels Smith said the company expects Penryn shipments to overtake the older 65-nanometer processors by the third quarter of 2008.
By contrast, Advanced Micro Devices will not begin producing its first 45-nanometer processors—Shanghai—until the middle of 2008.