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Intel is ready to enter the 45-nanometer era. As Intel CEO Paul Otellini detailed in his opening remarks at the 2007 Developer Forum, the company will bring its Penryn family of 45-nanometer processors to market Nov. 12.

The official release will bring 16 new microprocessors to the company’s portfolio, including 12 quad-core models, three dual-core chips and one quad-core processor specifically designed for high-end desktops and gaming PCs.

Although Otellini’s keynote took some of the suspense out of the debut, the Penryn lineup represents a significant step forward for the Santa Clara, Calif., company’s manufacturing abilities. The processors also marks the first time Intel will use its Hafnium-based processor technology that will reduce power leakage—the electricity wasted while the transistors are idle—which will improve the power performance.

The Penryn family, which will continue using Intel’s Core microarchitecture, will include 12 quad-core Xeon 5400 series processors, previously code-named Harpertown, and three dual-core Xeon 5200 series chips, formally called Wolfdale DP. The final processor is a Core 2 Extreme QX9650 for high-end and gaming desktops.

Additional desktop and notebook processors will follow in the first quarter of 2008, said Stephen Smith, vice president and director of operations at Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group.

While Penryn represents a major milestone for Intel, many analysts believe the company’s next microarchitecture—Nehalem—which is due to arrive in late 2008 and will allow the company to produce processors with up to eight cores, is the real key to Intel’s future.

HP and Lenovo are already offering Penryn-based workstations. Click here to read more about them.

“What Penryn does is it allows Intel to increase all the usual stuff, like increasing the cache size and the front side bus,” said Jim McGregor, a research director at the InStat Group. “In terms of enhancements to the Core architecture, nothing really stands out. It still remains a killer architecture, but Nehalem is going to be the real show stopper with all the changes that it will bring.”

Intel will target its enterprise customers first with Penryn. The new processors will look to boost the performance of applications running on one- and two-socket servers. Although chips for corporate desktops will come later, McGregor said Intel has worked to provide a stable platform for PCs while increasing performance.

“The big picture here is that it is a revolutionary new technology,” Smith told eWEEK. “This is the first use of the high-k metal gate technology and the first time that we are shipping processors with this technology to our customers. What we are giving them is a high-performance product within the same thermal envelope, which will be a big benefit to both servers and high-performance clients.”

David Driggers, the chief technology officer of Verari System, said his San Diego company will launch a workstation and single-socket server to coincide with the Penryn launch. From his perspective, the new processors and Intel chip sets offer several benefits, including a faster FSB (front side bus), support for DDR3 (double data rate 3) RAM, larger caches and support for second-generation PCI Express, which should improve I/O.

“There’s also not a huge price bump,” Driggers said. “Intel can manufacture more of these processors onto a wafer and it allows them to sell the chips for lower prices and still make money. It’s a very cost effective product.”

Click here to read more about Intel and storage.

The switch to 45-nanometer—a nanometer is one billionth of a meter—will allow Intel to save on manufacturing costs since it can now squeeze more Penryn processors onto a 300 millimeter wafer than it could with 65-nanometers processors. Intel also plans a quick 45-nanometer ramp and Intel’s Smith said the company expects Penryn shipments to overtake the older 65-nanometer processors by the third quarter of 2008.

By contrast, Advanced Micro Devices will not begin producing its first 45-nanometer processors—Shanghai—until the middle of 2008.

Page 2: Intel Poised to Enter New Era with Penryn

The cost benefits associated with 45-nanometer should help offset the billions of dollars Intel invested in developing the new chips and converting or building new manufacturing facilities—factories – to manufacture the chips. The Penryn debut also shows that Intel has now solidified its manufacturing abilities and can deliver products to partners and OEMs on time.

Penryn also shows that the company has continued to follow Moore’s Law (named for Intel founder Gordon Moore( that dictates that the number of transistors double about every two years, which increases performance. The new processors will contain 820 million transistors—the building blocks of the processor—compared to the 582 million contained in the quad-core Xeon processors the company brought to market in 2006.

These Penryn transistors will speed up by 20 percent, while reducing power consumption by 30 percent since they can switch on and off at the 45-nanometer level compared to those used 65-nanometer chips, according to Intel.

In terms of performance, the quad-core Xeon 5400 series processors will have clock speeds ranging from 2GHz up to 3.2GHz, a front side bus – the part of the design that allows data in and out of the processors – with speeds of up 1600MHz and 12MB of L2 cache.

The dual-core Xeon 5200 series processors will crank the clock speed up to 3.4GHz while offering 6MB of L2 cache and a 1600MHz FSB. Finally, the Core 2 Extreme QX9650, which is designed for gaming and high-end PCs, will clock in at 3GHz, offer 12MB of L2 cache and have a 1333MHz FSB.

In terms of TDP (thermal design power)—an Intel term that refers to how much heat a chip has to dissipate—the first batch of new chips will range from 80 watts to 130 watts with 50-watts models coming in 2008.

Intel is also planning to release three new server platforms with Penryn. These platforms include: “Stoakley” with the 5400 chip set for high-performance computing; “Cranberry Lake” with the 5100 chip set for two-socket systems; and “Garlow” with the 3200 chip set for single-socket servers.

In the second half of 2008, Smith said Intel will roll out a new processor called Dunnington for MP (multiprocessor) systems, which is essentially an upgrade for the high-end “Caneland” platform.

Besides clock speed, larger caches and bigger FSB, Intel has made a number of small changes with Penryn, including a new SSE4 instruction set that is made up of 47 processor instructions that will speed up functions like rendering high-definition video.

There are also improvements to Intel’s own virtualization technology that will allow virtual machine transition times—the time it takes to enter and exit a VM—to increase between 25 and 75 percent without any software changes.

The new Xeon processors will sell between $177 and $1,279 per 1,000 units shipped. The Core 2 Extreme QX9650 will sell for $999 per 1,000 units shipped.

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