San Francisco (CA) - News about the much anticipated Nehalem processor architecture coming out of this year’s IDF Fall are not quite as comprehensive as expected and given the Q4 launch date of the first CPUs, the level of technical provided may be even disappointing for some. But, of course, there is a reason why Intel is holding back. The mass market will not be seeing these new wunderkind processors for at least nine months.
Nehalem is very much perceived as the continuation of the company’s Core architecture, a technology that reclaimed the performance lead from AMD and brought a high-flying green team close to a break down. And Nehalem’s technology is without doubt impressive, including the QuickPath Interconnect and a new "Turbo" mode: Without disclosing many details, this feature will enable Nehalem processors to automatically overclock certain cores, while maintaining the overall power envelope. Apparently, the close control of voltage and frequency scaling enables the company to rake the risk of overclocking while making sure the CPU remains stable.
It is unclear just how much overclocking will be available, but we hear that "one or two bands" would be a realistic estimate. We also heard that Nehalem processor clock speeds will be somewhat comparable with today’s Core processors and since we saw a 3.2 GHz Nehalem CPU demo at IDF, we expect the first desktop Nehalems with Bloomfield core to debut in Q4 as Core i7 with at least 3 GHz and a Turbo mode that could take the chip into the 3.5 GHz region.
Intel’s disclosures may also leave some users scratching their head. Especially this sentence in Intel’s press release surprised us a bit: "Intel is also planning to manufacture a second server derivative designed for the expandable sever market ("Nehalem-EX"), and desktop ("Havendale" and "Lynnfield") and mobile ("Auburndale" and "Clarksfield") client versions in the second half of 2009."
The fact that Intel launches new architectures with high-margin, low volume performance CPU models first, is not surprising as this has been the case with every architecture launch over the past decades. What surprised us is the huge gap between Bloomfield and mainstream and mobile versions of Nehalem. Could it be that Intel feels very comfortable with its Penryns at this time and given the distance to AMD, is there no need for a mainstream Nehalem CPU in early 2009?
Likely, but we were told that while these dual-core and quad-core mainstream Nehalem CPUs (Bloomfield will debut as quad-core only) use the same underlying architecture as Bloomfield, they will get a different socket and different chipsets, which adds to the development time and causes the "delay". It also seems as if these mainstream CPUs will take advantage of the building block approach of Nehalem and are likely to be available with integrated memory and CPU-integrated graphics capability in H2 2009. H2, of course, covers a time frame of six months, but we got the impression that Intel’s Nehalem mainstream and mobile plans are aiming for the earlier part of the second half of next year.
Despite the fact Intel confirmed that it is on track to roll out its first 32 nm processors with Westmere core in H2 (most likely Q4) 2009, the mainstream and mobile Nehalem processors will all be 45 nm processors.
Unless you have more than $5000 to spend on a desktop PC and are looking for a high-end x86 server, you don’t have have to get crazy about Nehalem just yet. Christmas 2009 will be teh timeframe where Nehalem will become much more interesting and actually a mainstream topic.
So, there is a reasonable explanation why there is such a huge gap between Bloomfield and mass-market Nehalems. But some may consider the limited introduction of Nehalem in 2008 just a justification for Intel to keep its tick-tock cadence (new architectures in even years, refreshes in odd years) in place. And we have to admit that despite the array of new technologies in Nehalem it surely feels like Intel is taking a break and enjoys the distance to AMD.
The dynamics actually seems to have shifted into other, increasingly important areas. We heard about dual-core Atom chips and Cnet’s Brooke Crothers today wrote that Intel in fact has first silicon of the next-generation Atom, code-named Moorestown. This 32 nm processor makes the transition to a SoC, integrating the chipset and graphics capability under one roof. Other than Atom, which relies on a huge 130 nm chipset, Moorestown is all 32 nm and small enough to enable Intel to aim for the smartphone segment. Despite rumors that Apple may be developing its own iPhone processor, we still receive signals from sources close to Intel that Moorestown is directed at the iPhone and similar devices, as well as smaller MIDs.