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2/10/2009
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Intel's Future Chips Shrinking To 32-Nm, Adding Graphics

CEO Paul Otellini said Intel will spend $7 billion to support building new chips like the Westmere-based product, with its total of 12 threads and X58 Express chipset.

Intel on Tuesday introduced its product road map for its next-generation 32-nanometer processors, which will be the first to boost performance by incorporating graphics technology and a memory controller on the same piece of silicon as the main processor.

In a San Francisco news conference, Intel unleashed its latest batch of code names for the upcoming product line that the chipmaker plans to begin producing in the fourth quarter of this year. Before the meeting with reporters, Intel president and chief executive Paul Otellini said during a speech at the Economic Club in Washington, D.C., that the company expected to spend $7 billion over the next year on the manufacturing facilities that will produce the new products.

Intel is moving production to 32 nm from the current 45-nm generation of chips. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and Intel's numbers refer to the size of the circuitry on the chip. By stuffing the processor with more transistors and other components, chipmakers are able to boost performance, or clock speed, of the processor while consuming the same amount of energy as the previous generation.

The first 32-nm processors, which Intel plans to produce in volume for computer makers in the fourth quarter, are code-named Clarkdale and Arrandale for mainstream desktop and laptop computers, respectively. Both processors are dual core, with two threads per core.

Earlier this year, Intel plans to start production on two new 45-nm chips for mainstream desktops and laptops, Lynnfield and Clarksfield, respectively. Both are quad-core processors with two threads per core.

Despite the size difference in circuitry, all the above chips will fit in the same motherboard sockets and use the same Intel 5 series chipset. The 32-nm chips, however, are using a modified version of Intel's current Nehalem microarchitecture that places a memory controller and a new 45-nm graphics chip on the same piece of silicon as the main processor. Having the technology side by side results in higher performance, according to Intel, which is calling its Nehalem variant Westmere.

Intel's graphics chips are one step behind its main processors in size reduction. Graphics processors shipping with Intel's current 45-nm processors are 65 nanometers. Graphics shipping with the new 32-nm chips will be 45 nanometers.

For high-end desktops favored by gamers, graphics professionals, and computer enthusiasts, Intel plans to release in 2010 a six-core, 32-nm processor, code-named Gulftown. The Westmere-based processor will have a total of 12 threads and will use Intel's X58 Express chipset.

For server computers that run business applications, Intel released fewer details. However, a server version of the 32-nm Clarkdale processor is expected in the first half of next year for one-socket servers. Sometime next year, Intel is also expected to release 32-nm Westmere chips for four- and two-socket servers.

Intel is expected to stick with Westmere for its 32-nm processors until it releases its next-generation microarchitecture, code-named Sandy Bridge. That's expected in late 2010.

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