Intel stays on dual-core track through 2008

Chip company will launch a quad-core processor in 2007, but plans to go dual-core on two of its first 45-nanometer processors.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
An aggressive plan to accelerate introduction of new chip designs has Intel planning to walk before it runs.

The company plans to release two dual-core chips in 2008, around the same time it introduces its 45-nanometer manufacturing technology, according to sources familiar with Intel's plans. Intel has disclosed plans for 2007 to build a quad-core desktop processor called Kentsfield, but expects to break in the 45-nanometer manufacturing technology with familiar dual-core chips.

Wolfdale and Penryn are the code names for two of the first processors Intel plans to make on its 45-nanometer manufacturing technology, sources said. Intel CEO Paul Otellini at the company's analyst meeting two weeks ago disclosed Penryn as the name for the 45-nanometer versions of its soon-to-come Core architecture processors. The number attached to the manufacturing technology corresponds to the average size of features on those chips.

But Penryn is a dual-core 45-nanometer chip specifically designed for notebooks, sources said. Wolfdale is the name of the dual-core 45nm chip that will be slated for desktops in that time frame. Penryn is essentially a smaller version of Merom, which is due in August, while Wolfdale is a smaller version of Conroe, scheduled for a July launch.

An Intel representative confirmed that the code names represent projects that are under development, but declined to comment on the specifics of the products other than to note that they are subject to change.

Intel is preparing a summer release for its new dual-core Core architecture processors, one of its most important product launches in years. The company has struggled in recent years to transition from its power-hungry Netburst architecture to the Core architecture, which promises a big improvement in performance and more energy-efficient design.

With the launch of the Core chips approaching, Otellini also announced plans to accelerate the introduction of new chip designs in the future. Intel plans to introduce a new chip design every two years, in concert with its two-year road map for new manufacturing technologies, he said.

Penryn and Wolfdale are among the first chips that will arrive based on the Nehalem microarchitecture, the successor to the Core architecture. Intel's decision to make those products be dual-core chips illustrate its focus on making sure new designs can be manufactured in large volumes, said Mercury Research analyst Dean McCarron, after learning of the plan.

There's an inherent level of risk involved when a chip company is introducing a new manufacturing technology, as Intel will do with Penryn and Wolfdale, McCarron said. Chipmakers can't be sure how the new manufacturing process will behave while cranking out chips by the millions, which means they tend to start off with designs that they already understand, he said.

So Intel is using multichip packaging technology to create its first quad-core processors in 2007, just as it used multichip packaging to create its first dual-core chips in 2005. Kentsfield, the quad-core chip, is really just two Conroe processors packaged together. While there is a slight performance tradeoff in this approach, and chip purists find it inelegant, it allows Intel to maximize its yields, the number of working processors that can be cut from a silicon wafer, McCarron said.

That's because if there was a defect on a small portion of an integrated quad-core chip, it would wipe out the entire processor. So while Intel is capable of manufacturing a quad-core chip with its current technology, that chip would be too large to be practical in huge volumes. A multichip package means that the entire product wouldn't have to be trashed if a defect arose, since another working chip could be inserted in place of the defective processor.

Penryn and Wolfdale will probably be stepping stones to Intel's first integrated quad-core processor, McCarron said. With a new microarchitecture and a new manufacturing technology to manage, it makes sense to stick with a more familiar design, he said. After Penryn and Wolfdale launch, it's likely Intel will move to integrated quad-core designs on the 45-nanometer manufacturing technology.

After a few years of paying homage to its Israeli design team, Intel appears to have returned to using California references as code names for its upcoming products. Penryn is a town in California's Central valley, just outside Sacramento, while Wolfdale is named after a popular restaurant in the Lake Tahoe area.