Intel Shines Spotlight on Upcoming Nehalem Processors

At the Intel Developer Forum, Intel's top executives focused on an upcoming series of Intel processors built on the new Nehalem microarchitecture, which will scale up from two to eight processing cores. These new Intel processors, which will eventually find their way into servers, notebooks and desktops, add new power management and virtualization capabilities. The Intel processors will also offer an integrated memory controller, which will rival what AMD has offered with its Opteron processors.

SAN FRANCISCO-Intel lifted the curtain a little more on its upcoming lineup of processors based on the "Nehalem" microarchitecture, which will include new power management features and enhanced capabilities for virtualization.

While the chip maker held back some critical information on the Nehalem-based processors, such as clock speeds and pricing, an Intel executive did announce a new power management feature called TurboMode, which will allow for dynamic power management within the silicon itself. The other significant update is a virtualization technology dubbed VTD, which dedicates I/O resources for virtual machines.

These details were announced at the start of Intel Developer Forum, which kicked off Aug. 19.

The Nehalem microarchitecture represents a significant step forward for Intel processors, especially for those chips destined for servers. These upcoming Intel processors will have the ability to scale from two to eight cores and feature a number of technologies that Intel has talked about in the last 12 months, including a high-speed chip-to-chip interconnect called QuickPath and an integrated memory controller. Intel's main rival, Advanced Micro Devices, has used an integrated memory controller with its Opteron processors for the last five years.

The clock speeds of the Nehalem processors are expected to be similar to those offered with the current crop of 45-nanometer Xeon and Core 2 Duo processors. Instead of touting the clock speeds, Intel decided to emphasize the power efficiency of the processors and their ability to handle virtualization technology.

"It's not raw horsepower any more," said Jim McGregor, an analyst with In-Stat. "It's about what are the tweaks that I can [make] efficiently. So, it gets down to ... doing things as efficiently as possible. At the same time, the whole electronics paradigm has shifted and now power is king and they're still pushing [the] envelope of performance."

The other improvement to power efficiency is what Intel calls Hyper-Threading Technology, which allows for two instructional threads per core. A four-core Nehalem processor, for example, offers a total of eight threads. When combined with TurboMode, a server can run a single-threaded application with much greater power efficiency since the other cores can power down. At the same time, the clock speed also goes up, which gives a bump in performance.

When a system has multithreaded applications, all the cores and all the threads can come on at once.

The first of the Nehalem processors will arrive in the fourth quarter of 2008, and Intel will initially target gamers and PC enthusiasts with a chip called the Intel Core i7 for desktop PCs. Intel also showed the first eight-core Nehalem-EX processor, which will be geared toward servers and is expected to arrive early in 2009.

"Nehalem is the world's first dynamically scalable architecture," said Patrick Gelsinger, senior vice president at Intel and the general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group.