Competing Chip Tech Proves Smaller Is Better

Chip makers are moving to new manufacturing processes to help boost the performance and availability of multicore chips.

Manufacturers have begun tapping new processes that are capable of producing smaller, more power-efficient processors, in order to help dual-core chips proliferate in 2006.

Dual-core chips, which include two processor cores in place of one, have been limited to a relatively small number of high-end desktops and servers to date.

But now manufacturers such as Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. are looking to new 65-nanometer chip manufacturing processes—the means by which manufacturers knit together the transistors that make up the circuits inside their chips—to help them expand the market for the chips in the coming year.

Chip manufacturers generally move to new and successively smaller manufacturing processes every two years.

The shift, which costs billions and takes years of development, allows them to produce chips with greater numbers of transistors, but still make them smaller by packing those features more tightly together.

The cycle—as dictated by Moores Law, which observes that chip transistor counts will double every two years—has allowed the chip makers to drive up performance with each generation of manufacturing technology.

However, with the coming generations move from 90-nanometers to 65-nanometers, the chip makers will emphasize their dual-core designs.

Thus, the new crop of 65-nanometer dual-core chips will run faster, incorporate larger onboard memory caches, and still have space to add circuitry to support virtualization or other on chip features, while fitting within power budgets similar to those of todays dual-core chips.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about Intels quest for less power-hungry processors.

"The really big challenge in any [manufacturing] technology transition is getting it right in smaller geometries," said Nick Kepler, vice president of logic technology development at AMD.

However, once there, he said, "You could produce a [65-nanometer] chip thats the same size [as a 90-nanometer chip] and put two cores on it. You can just fit more in it."

Big-name chip makers such as AMD, Intel and IBM all report that, at a minimum, they have begun the early stages of 65-nanometer production. That means businesses and consumers can expect new crop of 65-nanometer chips over the course of 2006.

For its part, Intel appears to be the first brand-name chip maker to hit the new mark. Intel said its shipping Presler, a 65-nanometer, dual-core desktop processor, for revenue, and aims to ship hundreds of thousands of the chips by the end of this year.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Intels two 65-nanometer manufacturing processes.

Presler, which will come out in systems in early January, just about two years after Intels first 90-nanometer Pentium 4 chip, will be joined by Yonah, a dual-core processor for notebooks thats also due in January, and a Xeon server chip, dubbed Bensley, that will also arrive in the first quarter of 2006.

The 65-nanometer mark "equals high volume production of dual core in all three segments—thats the bottom line," said George Alfs, a spokesperson for Intel.

Presler, in keeping with 65-nanometer manufacturings advantages, is expected to offer more clock speed as well as extra cache. However, its expected to fit within current dual-core Pentium D chips envelopes for power consumption.

The first Preslers are expected to top out at 3.4GHz and offer twin 2MB caches. Intels Pentium D, on the other hand, hits 3.2GHz and offers two 1MB caches. Intel will offer the chips for both corporate desktops and consumer machines.

Next Page: Costly chip investments will pay off.