Intel's First 45-Nm Penryn Quad-Core Processor Due Nov. 12 - InformationWeek

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Alexander Wolfe
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Intel's First 45-Nm Penryn Quad-Core Processor Due Nov. 12

More from the quad-core wars: While we're waiting for AMD to release its first Phenom desktop chips before year's end, Intel is poised to ship its hottest desktop processor ever -- and its first 45-nm part -- in the form of the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 on Nov. 12.

More from the quad-core wars: While we're waiting for AMD to release its first Phenom desktop chips before year's end, Intel is poised to ship its hottest desktop processor ever -- and its first 45-nm part -- in the form of the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 on Nov. 12.This is the one we've all been waiting for. The QX9650 comes in at the top of Intel's desktop line, above today's state-of-the-art 65-nm Core-architecture part, the QX6850.

Like the QX6850, it's got a clock speed of 3.0 GHz. Interestingly, this isn't the fastest Intel clock has, though it's the fastest in quad. For example, my main home PC is powered by a now-obsolete Pentium D 940, which is clocked at 3.2 GHz. Of course, the 940 has two cores and the QX9650 has four, so there's no comparison, since the latter has twice the throughput.

This harkens back to the original reason Intel went from a single core to dual- and quad-CPU processors. Namely, you can only ramp the speed so high before you start to exceed your power budget.

Still, you shouldn't look at 3.0 GHz as some sort of limitation. (I should note for the record that Intel says faster Penryns are expected.) The 45-nm process Intel used to manufacture this thing enabled it to pack many more transistors -- and hence more features, -- onto the same slice of silicon than was possible at 65-nm. The finer process also supports lower voltages, and hence lower power dissipation. However, when you add back in the increased transistor count, you're back where you were previously. So the QX9650 ends up with a total dissipation rating of 130-W, but getting more bang for your buck than with the 65-nm QX6850.

Here's a slide from the Intel Developer Forum:

Intel's first 45-nm desktop quad core processor, the QX9650. (Click picture to enlarge.)

For example, Intel is pointing to the new SSE4 multimedia instructions, which they say can speed the handling of video by more than 50 percent. (These instructions -- the SSE stands for super shuffle engine -- are apparently much more arcane than the matrix-oriented operations supported by Intel's earlier generation of Streaming SIMD Extensions.)

You've also got a humongous 12-MB L2 cache, which is 50-percent bigger than the 8-MB offering on current quads.

In fairness, these new features don't do anything for you unless you're running an extremely computer-intensive application. That's why high-end desktops parts such as the QX9650 and QX6850 are aimed at "enthusiasts" -- industry jargon for gamers. (Gaming geeks have to suffice since there's not a recognizably large group of desktop users doing finite-element analysis or computational fluid dynamics.)

For you greenies, the QX9650 is billed by Intel as the "PC industry's first lead-free processor."

Intel wouldn't confirm the price for me, but it'll reportedly come in at the high end of the desktop quad family, at an OEM price of $999. I expect that the initial street price will be around $1,300. That's what the QX6850 was selling for back in August. It's since declined to around $1,080. Take a look at this table to see how street prices have changed in the past few months.

Street prices of Intel's desktop quads, as of Oct. 14, 2007. (Click picture to enlarge.)

The QX9650 will be followed by a passel of additional 45-nm desktop and mobile processors, as shown in the chart below. (Nehalem, which is due starting in 2008, uses the Penryn process but applies it to a new architecture.)

I should add a qualification to my statement above that the QX9650 will be Intel's first 45-nm part. Intel is readying a whole bunch of 45-nm server processors, too. Some of these will probably drop around the same time as the QX9650, so the latter is more correctly described as Intel's first desktop 45-nm.

The destop and mobile portion of Intel's 45-nm roadmap. (Click picture to enlarge.)

What's important to note is that Intel's 45-nm ramp-up is proceeding faster and more smoothly than expected. Intel has already sent out a bunch of product-change notifications for its server boards, which indicate that they're being updated so they can accept the new parts.

For you IT folks in the enterprise, the 45-nm Xeons are the big story (see chart below). Me, I'm hoping to get my hands on a QX9650 and test it and report the results here.

The server roadmap for Intel's 45-nm process rollout. (Click picture to enlarge.)

P.S. For info on Intel's existing quads, see Quad-Core Processor Buyer's Guide 2007.

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