Intel Corp. is sampling the first processors manufactured on its 90nm technology process -- the Prescott for desktop PCs and the Dothan, an improved version of the Pentium M chip for laptops.
Intel said it is on schedule for "revenue shipments" of both processors next quarter. The Santa Clara, Calif., company defines initial revenue shipments as limited-quantity orders placed by OEMs that use the processors to build enough computers to prepare for a formal market launch.
An Intel spokesman said the 90nm process ramp is proceeding as anticipated. Initial production at the company's D1C 300mm-wafer development fab in Hillsboro, Ore., is already yielding validated processors, he said. Fab 11X in Albuquerque, N.M., is primed to come on line in the fourth quarter as planned, while a plant in Leixlip, Ireland, is expected to start 90nm processing in the first half of 2004.
G. Dan Hutcheson, president of VLSI Research, San Jose, said Intel "has already proven its 90nm process in its Oregon development fab. Now it's just a matter of making the technology work in other fabs."
Analysts said PC makers will wait to provide systems based on the Prescott and Dothan until Intel has ratcheted 90nm production to a level where it can meet volume consumer demand.
"Intel has set itself a very aggressive launch of two new processors using 90nm process technology," said Kevin Krewell, a processor analyst with In-Stat/MDR, San Jose. "They need to build enough units to supply customers ramping up their PC production, and that could take a bit of time."
Still, the company is confident enough of the debut of its 90nm process that special briefings on the technology are scheduled at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Sept. 16-18 in San Jose.
At IDF, Intel will also turn the spotlight on the Prescott and Dothan as it tries to drown out archrival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which is slated to introduce its Athlon 64 desktop processor the following week.
Prescott is a significant upgrade over current Pentium 4 microprocessors, doubling the on-die L2 cache to 1Mbyte with an expected 3.4GHz frequency. Intel has said Prescott will have improved pre-fetch branch prediction for improved performance. The long pipeline of the Pentium 4 architecture can be slowed down when a wrong pre-fetch prediction must be purged and refilled with data.
Prescott will also be the first Intel processor to feature new internal security support, code-named La Grande. The company will provide at IDF the first details of how the new security technique works.
The processor includes 13 Prescott New Instructions (PNI), ranging from storing and loading integer data to new floating-point operations.
Intel is expected to follow its usual pattern of fielding several versions of Prescott to serve various market segments. Next year, the company will add both higher- and lower-frequency chips to the line. Versions of the chips running at 2.8 and 3 GHz are planned as lower-priced entries for the mainstream market.
Shane Rau, a processor analyst with IDC in Mountain View, Calif., said the lower-speed Prescotts will be "a natural fallout" from bin testing.
Dothan for laptops will have 2Mbytes of on-die L2 cache, twice that of the current Pentium M. The microprocessor will also have new power management features to extend battery time, Intel said.
The first Intel Xeon server processor to be made in a 90nm process, Nocona, is slated to debut late this year and will also be featured at IDF. The first Xeon MP series made with 90nm processing, Potomac, is scheduled to be introduced in the second half of 2004.
The company will also use IDF to unveil a processor chipset for laptops. Al- though Intel declined to identify it by name, some sources believe the chipset is called Alviso and is designed for the Pentium M line.
Other developments that Intel is expected to discuss at the forum include:
-- A next-generation Xscale processor, code-named Bulverde.
-- New chipsets supporting DDR2 SDRAM in server applications, including the Lindenhurst for one- and two-way Xeon processors and the Twin Castle, which supports the Xeon MP.
-- A new desktop PC form-factor specification.
-- A reference design for set-top boxes using a Celeron processor with a legacy 815 core logic chipset.
-- A new Extensible Firmware Interface for processors, called Tiano.