Sunday, March 15, 2009

Peer into Intel’s Future: 2008 Roadmaps

We don't often peer into the ether here at PC Perspective to give our readers an outlook very far into the future, simply because that has traditionally not been our style. Taking rumors from other sources and then spouting off about our predictions for various technologies is more the news hounds of the world rather than the actual hardware reviewers. Besides, most of the information we get from Intel, AMD and NVIDIA is protected under those damn NDAs.

Every once in a while though some data comes across our desk that isn't from the companies directly and we like to share that whenever we can. A large amount of Intel roadmaps and documentation was recently found that gives us a clearer view of how the chip leader is going to execute for the remainder of 2007 and well into 2008.

Intel CPU Releases

This below diagram details the processor releases from Intel start in Q4 2004 (!!) all the way up to the end of 2008.

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It is really interesting to see a layout of all the CPUs over this long of a period, but we are going to focus on the end of 2007 and 2008 years are they are displayed. In the high end market, which shows up as "Extreme" in the diagram, after the actual release of the QX9770 processor, which we recently previewed, there are no more releases scheduled until Bloomfield arrives. In the DP (dual processor) segment we have the QX9775 coming which will use the LGA771 socket rather than the LGA775 and be used pretty much exclusively for the super-mega-awesome Skulltrail system.

You can see as well that the additional Yorkfield processors are going to arrive starting in Q1 of next year, the most appealing of which might be the Q9450 that we simulated in our recent AMD Phenom review. There will be a Q9300 that uses the 1066 MHz FSB and a Q9550 on the 1333 MHz FSB to surround the Q9450 and even a pair of dual-core Yorkfield CPU will be released in Q1 at 3.0 GHz and 3.16 GHz clock speeds.

Bloomfield is listed in Q4 of 2008 and is the codename for the Nehalem processors that have talked about in quite a bit detail in the past.

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This large table lists all the upcoming and current Intel processors and the various features and specifications for them. Had we posted this up a few days ago, the news of seeing a 1600 MHz FSB part for the single processor market would have been a surprise. The Core 2 Duo, Quad and Extreme specs are all what we would expect, but the Bloomfield and Gainestown parts are new -- and in fact do not have model names associated with them yet.

Bloomfield and Gainestown are Nehalem processor names with the later referring to upcoming dual processor configuration models. Interestingly, even though we were told about 8-core Nehalem parts at this year's IDF they are only showing as quad-core parts on this sheet. Looks like four cores is going to be the top level through 2008. The on-die cache is sized at 8MB, less than the 12MB currently on the Yorkfield cores, but there is no level attached to them (L1, L2, L3) indicating that Nehalem might have a new memory structure that Intel hasn't decided how to market.

Instead of a front-side bus speed, the Bloomfield and Gainestown have QPI links -- quick path interconnects -- Intel's answer to AMD's HyperTransport technology. Gainestown will have two QPI interconnects for dual processor configurations while the Bloomfield will have just a single connection for communicating with the chipset.

As we had expected, Nehalem will have an integrated DDR3-1333 memory controller, again similar to AMD's Athlon 64 cores and beyond, and will use a new LGA1366 package. That's a full 75% more pins than current Core 2 products indicating a lot of bandwidth for the QPI connections. The die of Nehalem will be monolithic (AMD will lose its "only true quad core" campaign then) and will be based on the very robust 45nm process technology that the Yorkfield cores use. The TDP of the top parts is listed at 130 watts: quite a bit higher than current Core 2 Extreme CPUs.

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In regards to the die size of the upcoming Nehalem core, this diagram attempts to shed some more light on the subject by comparing die shots of Penryn and Nehalem. Since both are based on the 45nm process, the die shots can be compared to make guesses about transistor counts - following the math shows that each new Nehalem core could be around 30M transistors with the whole monolithic die coming it at 730M transistors or so. Current quad-core Yorkfield CPUs are composed of two 410M transistor dies for a total of 810M transistors making Nehalem SMALLER in terms of actual wafer area.

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This diagram is estimated CPU shipments for Intel's desktop products based on a percentage of total CPUs shipped. Yorkfield quad-core parts are only supposed to gain market share of the desktop CPUs up to 85; that's somewhat less than I expected though the dual-core Wolfdale (45nm shrink of Penryn, half of Yorkfield) will expand quickly. Also note that on this graph, Intel is predicting the death of the NetBurst architecture by the end of 2007!

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