32nm Intel Westmere to hit production in late 2009


— 3:17 PM on February 10, 2009

Sometimes, just sometimes, unsourced rumors from small Asian tech sites turn out to be spot on. During a briefing earlier today, Intel confirmed plans to start producing 32nm dual-core Westmere processors in the fourth quarter of this year—and the company says it may never introduce 45nm dual-core Nehalem derivatives.

To understand Intel's latest desktop and mobile roadmap, you first need to get to grips with the latest batch of code names. Think of Westmere in the same way as Penryn: a new core based on an older architecture that will form the basis for a line of products. In this case, Westmere is more than a mere die-shrink. The design includes only two 32nm cores with 4MB of cache, and its memory controller resides on a separate, 45nm die together with an integrated graphics chip. Like so:

Penryn on the left, Westmere on the right. Source: Intel.

Westmere CPUs will have some of the same perks as their Nehalem brethren. Those include Hyper-Threading, which will allow each core to juggle two threads, and Turbo Boost, which will let the CPU shut off one core and clock up the other to improve single-threaded performance. Intel has also tossed in seven new instructions for accelerating encryption and decryption algorithms, which should come in handy for tasks like full-disk encryption in software.

As for the graphics core, Intel said that will be a tweaked 45nm version of its existing 65nm integrated graphics processor. The smaller process will allow for higher clock speeds, and Intel claims proximity with the memory controller will reduce latency and improve memory bandwidth. The firm named reduced latency as a primary reason for moving the IGP into the CPU package, but that explanation sounds a tad dubious. (Latency seems like the least of Intel's problems on the integrated graphics front right now, and "discrete" IGPs from AMD and Nvidia perform considerably better.) In all likelihood, Intel wants to elbow out other IGP makers and perhaps give itself the option of upgrading IGP cores without needing to change CPU cores and chipsets.

Intel boasted that its very first Westmere silicon was capable of running a PC and booting up, saying this indicates "very robust process health" and a "very robust product." In fact, Intel showed Westmere-powered desktop and notebook systems running an operating system and applications after the briefing. Westmere's precocity is why Intel opted to "de-prioritize" 45nm dual-core Havendale and Auburndale processors, which means the chips might never launch at all.

So, that's Westmere. Intel will use Westmere to build two products at first: Clarkdale on the desktop and Arrandale for notebooks. Intel suggested that both CPUs will have similar clock speeds and power envelopes as existing mainstream desktop offerings, and they should retain the Core name, as well. Both Clarkdale and Arrandale will be dual-core products, and they should hit production in Q4 2009—presumably in time for a launch early next year, although Intel says it still needs to work out a launch schedule with partners.

A "little later," Intel will follow up with Gulftown, a high-end desktop processor with six cores and twelve threads. Since it'll be Westmere-based, this product may have three dual-core processor dice in the same package. Gulftown will team up with the same X58 chipset as today's Core i7 CPUs.

In the meantime, Intel has another pair of 45nm processors lined up for the second half of this year: Lynnfield for desktops and Clarksfield for notebooks. Both CPUs will have four cores and eight threads just like the Core i7, but they'll be part of a different platform with a new socket and new 5-series chipsets. Incidentally, Intel said 32nm Clarkdale and Arrandale CPUs will work with that same platform. The new roadmap says nothing of quad-core Westmere offerings, hinting instead that Clarkdale, Arrandale, Lynnfield, and Clarksfield will simply co-exist at different price points until Sandy Bridge—the upcoming 32nm architecture refresh—comes along.

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