Intel makes U-turn with new-generation chips

Intel has revealed unprecedented amounts of new detail about forthcoming processors. Not just its next generation of processors, codenamed Penryn, but the one after that as well, codenamed Nehalem. The new parts will be based the 45nm fabrication process using the newly developed metal-gate transistors that the company describes as ‘revolutionary’.

Intel makes U-turn with new-generation chips

Penryn parts are scheduled to hit the market in the second half of this year, with the Nehalem CPUs appearing at an unspecified point in 2008.

Penryn is based on the existing Core microarchitecture, with larger Level 2 caches of 6MB for dual-core and 12MB for quad-core, plus a new set of SSE (streaming SIMD extension) instructions, giving us SSE4. Clock speeds will exceed 3GHz and the front side bus speed will increase to 1,600MHz.

On the Nehalem front, the details were little short of a revelation. As well as a totally new CPU microarchitecture, Intel will be abandoning the traditional FSB (front side bus) in favour of a completely new platform approach. A serial point-to-point link will replace the FSB, and the system’s memory controller will be integrated into the CPU.

This effectively means Intel is adopting the basic platform architecture AMD has been using in its Athlon 64 and Opteron processors for years, despite Intel’s protestations that the front side bus architecture was fit and well.

A further surprise came with the announcement that it will produce a variant with graphics processing integrated into the CPU, eliminating the need for a separate graphics card.

Intel’s Stephen L Smith was cagey on the compatibility of Penryn parts with current platforms, confirming that they will fit the current LGA775 sockets but pointedly failing to say whether existing motherboards would accept the new parts as a drop-in replacement.

The new platform architecture required for Nehalem parts means that new motherboards and new memory will definitely be required.

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