Intel's long, strange journey toward mimicking AMD's processors will end in 2008 with a brand new chip architecture called "Nehalem," the company confirmed today. Intel's fresh chips will have up to eight cores and a number of other bits and pieces found today's in server, desktop and notebook chips from AMD.
The "Nehalem" chips will allow Intel to debut its elusive CSI (common systems interconnect) technology – a high-speed serial interconnect similar to AMD's Hypertransport technology. In addition, Intel will pump out processors with built-in memory controllers and built-in graphics units, said SVP Pat Gelsinger, speaking to reporters here. Lastly, Intel intends to support two software threads per core with the "Nehalem" gear – again bringing the giant in line with processor rivals such as Sun Microsystems and IBM.
"This is a big deal," Gelsinger said. "This is a very big deal."
The executive's enthusiasm proves understandable. The Nehalem designs are a total architecture revamp over today's "Core" designs, which were unsheathed in the first quarter last year. The Core chips – Intel's currently shipping products for mobile, desktop and server computers – improved the company's overall product performance and performance per watt, allowing to compete with and even best AMD on numerous benchmarks for the first time in a couple of years.
Intel hopes to build on that success with the Nehalem gear that will range from one to at least eight cores.
At the moment, Intel is keeping the very fine details about the Nehalem chips hush-hush. Gelsinger, however, did confirm the previously mentioned items such as "integrated memory controllers as well as point-to-point interconnects (up to four links)" on chips running at greater than 3GHz. Some chips for the server and client markets will also have integrated graphics processors similar to gear that AMD plans to pump out fresh off its ATI acquisition. And all of the Nehalem products will support DDR3 memory.
Reading the tea leaves, it sounds like Intel will roll out quite a number of different chip specs, including multi-core products with lower frequencies similar to Sun's UltraSPARC T1 that cater to multi-threaded software.
End users of Intel's new chips will have to buy fresh systems rather than slotting the chips into existing boxes. By contrast, AMD with its upcoming Barcelona product and the follow-on Montreal chip will have socket compatibility, as disclosed in this Register exclusive.
Intel has struggled to get the CSI technology out the door. It once expected to outfit a version of Xeon code-named Whitefield with CSI but scrapped those plans due to design issues. The chip maker is expected to introduce CSI in its Itanium family in 2008 as well and has told some customers that the technology shows "much lower latency" than AMD's Hypertransport.
Forget not Penryn
Looking back to the near term, Gelsinger also divulged more details on the "Penryn" family of chips that will go into production this year.
This will be Intel's first chip family to make major use of the company's 45nm manufacturing, Hi-k manufacturing process. Processors in the family will benefit from higher available front side busses (1600 MHz) and a number of other technology enhancements that we've profiled in detail.
Gelsinger, however, urged that the Nehalem parts will be the true 45nm flagship products having been designed from the ground up for that manufacturing process. Customers are "already well underway" with their system designs for the chips. ®