CPU Guide

Intel's 2009 CPU Roadmap & the 32nm Westmere Connection

Intel's 2009 CPU Roadmap & the 32nm Westmere Connection

Tricky Year, but the Jump to 32nm Goes On

Tricky Year, but the Jump to 32nm Goes On

The past couple of years were pretty good to Intel with their Core architecture leading the charge across all the platforms, from mobile to the server segment. Nehalem, the successor to the Core microprocessor architecture came in November 2008 and lifted the already high performance bar to a whole new level with a complete platform change as well. While technically all seems to point that the blue giant is doing things right, even they couldn't withstand the faltering economy as they posted dismal revenues for the last quarter.

Despite that, Intel today announced they will be investing US$7 billion dollars into 32nm manufacturing technology to upgrade their existing fabrication plants. That's an impressive amount of investment to ensure the company stays on its competitive toes and weather out the economic downturn. The research, development and gearing up to production cycle is a long process that looks out for the future of the company's progress; restricting that now, could have repercussions later. Intel seems to recognize that and thankfully is still on track with their development plans.

While it will take them a couple of years to reach full capacity for 32nm processor production, Intel expects their Oregon-based plants to be production ready by the end of 2009. Meanwhile Intel has more 45nm Nehalem based processors later this year and we'll briefly touch on them before exploring what the 32nm Westmere microarchitecture has in store for us.

Mainstream Nehalem - Lynnfield and Clarksfield Processors (45nm)

The Core i7 processors (codenamed Bloomfield) we've seen to-date in the market represent the best of Intel's Nehalem architecture and sit in the high-end segment. However the mainstream segments have not yet been refreshed with this new architecture. Enter the Lynnfield processor - based on the same quad-core Nehalem architecture with HyperThreading technology, but using a new LGA-1156 socket, this will tackle the mainstream segment.

It differs from the Bloomfield Core i7 processor in terms of memory bandwidth support, lowered TDP and its platform support. The Lynnfield has a simpler dual-channel memory controller, which also explains why the lower pin count requirement (and thus lower cost of manufacturing). Given what we know of Core i7 and our experimentation in our earlier CPU articles , the downgrade from a tri-channel to a dual-channel memory controller should hardly impact the performance much in regular scenarios. With the change in socket comes a newer platform as well to support Lynnfield. This could mean even more affordable Core-7 like performance systems. However, hard-core users who know how best to keep their processor fully taxed would still benefit from the extra memory bandwidth of the Core i7.

Along the same timeline when Lynnfield comes about, Intel would be offering a mobile version of this same chip called Clarksfield which will likely use yet another proprietary socket and may come in more conservative TDP versions. Here's how the 45nm Nehalem microarchitecture based processors will stack up later this year:-

Intel's 45nm Nehalem Microarchitecture Processors
Segment Processor Code Physical / Logical Cores Socket Memroy Controller Chipsets Supported Availability
High-end Desktop Bloomfield 4 / 8 LGA-1366 Tri-channel Intel X58 Since Nov'08
Mainstream Desktop Lynnfield 4 / 8 LGA-1156 Dual-channel Intel 5 series (undisclosed) Second-half 2009
Mobile Clarksfield 4 / 8 mPGA-989 (not confirmed) Dual-channel Intel Mobile 5 series (undisclosed) Second-half 2009

Oddly though, the Lynnfield and Clarksfield processors are scheduled quite late in the year. We suspect there's more to these mainstream processors, such as the previously unconfirmed facts that these processors also incorporate a simpler PCIe graphics controller and actually scrap the IOH (such as the X58 chipset) altogether. Instead, these processors might interface with a single motherboard chip called the Platform Controller Hub (PCH) for all the I/O connectivity needs. These are not yet confirmed, but if found true, these are valid enough reasons as to why these mainstream models are slated to debut much later in the year while more Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quads are being churned out now.

Let us now tune in to the 32nm processor lineup and what the die-shrunk microarchitecture has to offer.