by April 1, 2009 0 comments



After launching the meanest desktop class processor, Intel’s next big step is
to shrink the chip. Currently in production and available in stores, the Core i7
family of processors is the latest from Intel and sports a new microarchitecture.
Nehalem as it is known to the world, comes with a number of achievements; it is
Intel’s first native quad core processor, has an inclusive level 3 cache, an
integrated memory controller and the QuickPath Interconnect. But what was still
similar to its predecessor, the Penryn architecture, was the 45nm process.

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Now the 45nm semiconductor manufacturing process isn’t really a drawback for
Nehalem. Intel follows a tick tock model for its products. Every tick is a
shrink of the manufacturing process and tock is a brand new microarchitecture.
Therefore, the 45 nm process was an intentional component for Intel while
launching Nehalem as it helps them follow the model and come out with new
products more quickly. Now the Westmere microarchitecture, as Intel calls it,
will be the successor to Nehalem.

Westmere will be the 32nm shrink of the Nehalem microarchitecture and will
have some new features. Are you wondering what will happen when the most
powerful processor on this planet migrates to a 32nm process? Well, let’s have a
look.

Increased power efficiency
When you build Nehalem on a smaller manufacturing process and throw in a new
feature or two, you get Westmere. A smaller manufacturing process means that
Westmere is going to be more power efficient and cost effective as with a shrink
in size, Intel can manufacture more cores per wafer.

AES instruction set
Similar to the 45nm tick of Penryn, Intel plans to add new capabilities to
32nm processors using the additional transistor budget. The 32nm Westmere
processors offer new Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) instructions. The new
instruction set consists of 7 instructions for accelerating encryption and
decryption. Early Intel analysis shows a significant performance boost on
encryption/decryption algorithms. An example of client usage for this can be
full disk encryption.

A new multi-chip package
Both, a processor core and an integrated graphics and memory controller on a
single processor will be seen with the first Intel 32nm Westmere products.
Interestingly, even though the processor core will be 32nm, the integrated
graphics and memory controller will be on a separate 45nm die. Since the
integrated graphics and memory controller are located on a separate die, rumors
are you can adjust power settings and clock frequencies better than on one die.

Repartitioned mainstream client platform
With Westmere, the client side platform gets repartitioned into a 2 chip
solution as compared to a 3 chip solution present in Penryn. The new 32nm
Westmere-based platform features a two chip solution with just the processor and
an Intel 5 series chipset. As a result, Intel has eliminated the need for an ICH,
which reduces manufacturing costs and valuable space on the motherboard. Also,
with higher degree of integration there is a natural performance enhancement
while lowering power consumption.

Coming soon but not 32nm
Core i7 might be advantageous to professionals running a large number of
multi-threaded applications, but for routine app users, such amazing performance
is hardly needed. Moreover gamers need higher clock speeds rather than too many
cores and thread support from their processors.
Slated to hit markets during Q3 this year, Intel has two new 45 nm processors
based on the Nehalem microarchitecture. These are Lynnfield (desktop) and
Clarksfield (laptops). Likely to be launched as Core i5, Lynnfield will be be
the first mainstream Nehalem, following on the successful launch of the Core i7
line for enthusiasts. Like Core i7, Core i5 will be based on 45nm process, will
have 4 cores and hyper-threading, so each core can handle two processing
threads.

The 32nm processors
After the launch of 45nm Lynnfield and Clarksfield processors, we should see
the first 32nm processors. The first generation of 32nm products from Intel
shall be aimed at desktop and mobile users. Clarkdale for mainstream desktop and
Arandale for laptops shall be the names of these processors.

They will have two cores supporting up to 4 threads and will also have
integrated graphics. Interestingly, Intel doesn’t have a 32nm quad core
processor on their roadmap as of now. Desktop users will see the launch of
Piketon and Kings Creek platforms utilizing a new Intel 5 series chipset and
socket with Lynnfield or Clarkdale processors. Both desktop processors will need
the new Intel socket LGA 1156 and one of the upcoming 5-series chipsets (P55,
P57) in order to run. The X58 Express platform that was launched with Nehalem
will also see an update later this year. This will be a 32nm 6-core processor
supporting 12 threads and is codenamed Gulftown.

When talking of 32nm processors, how could server processors be left behind.
Intel is planning to introduce 32nm Xeon processors for the entry level clients
and then ramping them up to the high-end clients with time. At entry level,
which usually consists of single socket servers, a platform called Foxhollow
will bring the Lynnfield processor (designed based on Nehalem) into this arena,
to be followed later by the 32nm Clarkdale processor. For dual-socket servers,
the Nehalem Efficient Performance (EP) processor is expected in Q1 2009, this
will be refreshed next year with a 32nm Westmere-based product in future, as
will Nehalem EX for four-socket systems. The expandable server market should see
Nehalem-EX followed by 32nm Westmere-based processors next year.

Conclusion
Intel’s tick tock model has delivered new technology and processor micro
architectures, regularly. Westmere is just a change in the process technology
whereas the next major change will come with a ‘tock’, the Sandy Bridge. What
Westmere also means for mainstream consumers is that the long lived socket LGA
775 is seeing its replacement for the very first time. It is hard to believe
that LGA 775 platforms have been around since 2004 and were able to last to this
point. But they will soon be replaced with the new socket LGA 1156, along with
the upcoming 5-series of chipsets
(P55, P57).

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