Nehalem: Intel's near future gets real

A desktop system based on Intel's upcoming Nehalem processor has been built. Meanwhile, the chipmaker's Nehalem mobile platform gets a name.

Intel has scores of futuristic, potentially game-changing research projects but Nehalem is bet-the-farm reality. The first Nehalem chips--and the first drops of what should become a giant revenue stream--will arrive later this year. So, it is not surprising that real silicon and real systems are starting to appear.

What is Nehalem exactly? The architecture will scale from two to eight processor cores, have faster chip-to-chip communication (Intel calls this technology QuickPath), do a better job of adjusting performance levels to suit power needs, and have a higher level of integration (more logic will be built directly onto the processor die).

Other salient features include more scalable memory (each processor will have its own dedicated memory), the ability to do more stuff simultaneously (up to 16 threads with simultaneous multi-threading), and new instructions to increase efficiency (called SSE4.2 instructions). Here's how Intel describes Nehalem.

A four-socket Nehalem system with integrated memory controllers
A four-socket Nehalem system with integrated memory controllers Intel

Maximum PC appears to be the first to build a Nehalem "Bloomfield" desktop system for everyone to see.

The system uses a 2.93GHz Bloomfield processor and an Intel motherboard with an X58 chipset (which had been codenamed "Tylersburg"), which will is also due to ship in the fourth quarter.

The Bloomfield chip is larger than current Intel quad-core processors (e.g., the Q6700), according to Maximum PC. This means more fans, bigger heat sinks, and more heat to dissipate overall.

Nehalem will support faster DDR3 memory. And this points to one of Nehalem's major departures from past Intel processors: the memory controller--which talks to the DDR3 chips--is now on the processor die. Previously, this was off-chip. In short, higher levels of integration generally means higher performance.

New "overclocking features" are also offered in Nehalem, according to Maximum PC. Overclocking--running the chip faster than its rated speed--is an absolute prerequisite for gamers. Which means, of course, that initially one of Nehalem's biggest draws will be gamers.

In the more distant Nehalem future, the mobile platform has gotten a name. At this point, Intel will confirm the code name only: Calpella. But otherwise "won't comment on speculation."

Other information posted on various tech Web sites about the 2009 Nehalem mobile platform in the past few days has been in the public domain for almost a year. That is, it will have an on-die memory controller and one version of the chip will have an integrated graphics processor--which will be a first for Intel. One new twist is the timing: it may launch in the third quarter of 2009.

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