Intel Plans Eight-Core Nehalem and Smarter SOCs

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Intel will give details of a 2.3 billion transistor, eight core processor, and smarter system-on-chip (SOC) modules that include wireless networking and graphics on the die itself, at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, 8-12 February.

The Nehalem EX, at the top of Intel’s Xeon range, will be covered among the technical papers Intel will deliver at ISSCC, along with plans for new types of system-on-a-chip processors for a range of new products designed for devices such as handsets, which include wireless technology and graphics at the chip level.

Intel engineers plan to detail new techniques that will integrate more wireless technologies, including WWAN (wireless WAN) and WLAN (wireless LAN), onto the silicon die itself in order to boost the ability to send and receive data from a number of different mobile devices.

Finally, Intel is expected to detail its efforts at integrating new graphics technologies within its microprocessor silicon.

All together, Intel engineers plan to discuss 15 different technical papers at the 2009 International Solid-State Circuits Conference, which starts on the 8th February in San Francisco. Intel, along with other chip companies such as Advanced Micro Devices and IBM, typically use this show to highlight future chip developments and expand on their future processor roadmap.

In terms of Nehalem, Intel engineers will not break any new ground at this year’s conference, but Mark Bohr, an Intel Senior Fellow, does plan to discuss additional details about several upcoming Xeon processors that are based on this new microarchitecture.

The chip, now called Nehalem-EX, is built on Intel’s 45-nanaometer manufacturing process and contains 2.3 billion transistors. The Nehalem-EX processor also contains eight processing cores with each core using two instructional threads for a total of 16 threads. Intel executives first described the Nehalem-EX chip at the company’s Developer Forum and it will hit the high-end server market later this year.

Other Intel papers will describe future Nehalem-based processors for other types of servers, desktops and laptops. Intel is expected to release new chips for these markets in the coming months.

However, Bohr also plans to focus some time on how Intel is conceiving a new generation of SOC processors that will pack even more technologies into a single processor or die package.

These developments, Bohr said will allow Intel to keep pace with Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months. In addition, these new types of SOC processor can lead to the development of new types of devices, including MIDS (mobile Internet devices), as well as laptops, server systems and different types of consumer electronics.

The starting point for this future vision is Nehalem and Intel’s 45-nm manufacturing, which allowed Intel to integrate the memory controller onto the processor for the first time with these new chips. (AMD has used an integrated memory controller with its Opteron processors for a number of years.)

From here, Bohr sees a future where more and more components are placed within the die or right onto the processor itself. Intel is calling these chips “smart SOCs.”

“Chips are much more than just digital logic,” said Bohr before the conference. “They are really complex systems on a chip that involve digital logic, memory circuits, analogue circuits, on die sensors and adaptive circuits… In the future, SCO products will merge more and more of these systems components onto a single chip or at least within a single package.”

In addition to these various components, Intel is looking to build various wireless technology capabilities into the processors themselves. This is another critical step to developing the smart SOCs that Bohr plans on detailing at the show.

The first obstacle that Intel engineers plan to overcome is cleaning up the harmonics to allow for clearer and stronger wireless signals. Another Intel paper describes a chip component that allows for gigabit wireless, which will allow devices to transmit and receive data much faster and across greater distances. When these new types of chip technologies are perfected, Intel believes that it can create devices that can support Wi-Fi, WiMax, 3G and Bluetooth.

These types of technologies also show that Intel is increasingly interested in moving its x86 processor technology out of the traditional PC market and into more handset devices such as MIDs, cell phones and smart phones.

A final set of papers deal with improving graphics within the silicon, especially when it comes to smaller devices. The goal here is to boost performance, while reducing the amount of power the graphics use.

However, Intel engineers pointed out that this research is not being developed into a specific processor or SOC chip at this time.