Intel reveals more details about 45nm chips

Penryn's die. Source: Intel.
After triumphantly stating that it had successfully booted 45nm "Penryn" processors in its fourth-quarter financial results announcement, Intel held a briefing about Penryn and its new 45nm process last Friday. The company revealed that its new 45nm process implements a new high-k + metal gate transistor type, which Intel co-founder Gordon Moore says is the "biggest change in transistor technology since the introduction of the polysilicon gate MOS transistor in the late 1960s." David Kanter over at RealWorldTech explores the subject in more depth here, but in short, Intel says its new process allows it to double transistor density, increase transistor switching speed by over 20%, and reduce transistor switching power by 30%.

The upcoming Penryn chip itself will feature 410 million transistors in its dual-core iteration and 820 million transistors in quad-core form. By contrast, Intel's current quad-core processors have 582 million transistors, and the Core 2 Duo has half that. Intel says the increase is mainly due to extra cache as well as a new SSE4 instruction set, which the company says will "expand capabilities and performance" in high-performance computing and media applications. Penryn will also feature higher clock speeds than its predecessors and new power management modes, although Intel didn't elaborate about those subjects. Despite the improvements, quad-core Penryn chips won't be quad-native designs like AMD's Barcelona. Intel has instead opted to stick with its dual-chip/single-package design for the time being.

Early Penryn samples are apparently doing quite well: not only can they boot a variety of operating systems, but Intel says it has successfully run Microsoft Office and even games on systems powered by the new chips. The company plans to introduce Penryn-based processors in its desktop, mobile, and workstation/server lineups all in the second half of this year. The desktop and workstation/server chips will be available in dual-core and quad-core variants, while the mobile version will be dual-core with the same 35W thermal envelope as current mobile Core 2 Duos. Regarding motherboard compatibility, Intel says manufacturers will have to update their BIOSes and might need to make minor electrical changes to accommodate the new chips. The company said it couldn't guarantee compatibility, but it suggested that some currently-shipping motherboards should have no trouble supporting the upcoming chips.

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