SAN JOSE, Calif. Setting the pace for the semiconductor industry, Intel Corp. officially rolls out Monday (Nov. 12) the first members of its Penryn family, 16 45-nm processors using new high-k dielectrics to control current leakage.
Other chip makers, including archrival Advanced Micro Devices, are still months away from having a production-ready 45-nm process, and most are not planning on initially using new insulating materials.
Fifteen of Intel's new chips aim at servers, with one focused on high-end desktops for gamers. The chips generally provide a 7 to 13 percent performance boost over Intel's existing 65-nm parts when measured at the same frequency.
The Penryn parts hit data rates ranging from 1.86 to 3.4 GHz, with 6 to 12 Mbytes cache. They are typically packing more performance into existing 120-W, 80-W and 65-W power envelopes, with 50-W parts coming early next year.
"We are pretty excited about getting out not only the 45-nm products, but the high-k dielectric materials as well, so, in addition to a shrink, we can also better address the power-consumption issues," said Shannon Poulin, a marketing director in Intel's server group.
AMD still commands an architectural lead, because it puts four CPU cores and a memory controller on a single die with a fast interconnect. Intel stacks two dual-core dice in a package for the 12 quad-core chips in the initial Penryn rollout.
However, the Penryn chips exceed the 2-GHz data rates AMD so far hits with its 65-nm server CPUs rolled out earlier this year. AMD has promised to deliver 2.5-GHz server chips in December, and has demonstrated its Phenom quad-core desktop part running at up to 3 GHz.
Reviewers said AMD's 65-nm parts commanded an edge in floating-point and streaming-media performance over Intel's 65-nm parts. Intel is addressing that with Penryn and its new chip sets, bus and memory speeds, Poulin said.
"AMD really needs to get the clock speed of its CPUs up very soon. At 2 GHz, AMD's parts are barely competitive with Intel's 65-nm CPUs," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.).
While AMD races to catch up with 45-nm technology, Intel is at work with its next-generation chips, called Nehalem, which could erase AMD's architectural edge. The Nehalem chips, to be introduced late next year, will be similar to AMD's latest Opterons, with four cores and a memory controller on a single die.
Intel will also roll out with Nehalem a new CPU interface, the Quick Path Interconnect, which is said to deliver up to 6.4 Mbytes/second. That's far above the 1.7–2.1 Mbytes/s on its current front-side bus now running at up to 1.6 GHz.
"It will be interesting to see whether AMD can get its designs to 45-nm technology before Intel can bring out a new architecture on its 45-nm process," said Brookwood.
The good news for Intel is that it is significantly ahead of the industry with 45-nm production, especially with its use of new dielectric materials.
By the end of the year, IBM Corp. hopes to have qualified a 45-nm process using a more traditional silicon dioxide insulator. AMD is working with IBM on its technology and hopes to have 45-nm production starting about midyear 2008.
Pricing of the Penryn processors ranges from $177 to $1,279 in quantities of 1,000. Availability begins Nov. 12 for some of the parts, with others stretching out over 45 days. n