Intel's First Nehalem Server Chips Set For Q4 Production

Intel is planning production of the first Xeon server chips based on the Nehalem microarchitecture for the fourth quarter of this year with "broad availability in early 2009," according to a recent Intel presentation obtained by ChannelWeb.

Some unofficial reports have pegged the release of the first Nehalem server chips in the next month or two, a time period during which Intel could conceivably begin releasing sample chips to partners for testing if full-scale production kicks off in early Q4.

The slide presentation also confirmed some previously leaked details about Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's upcoming six-core Xeon 7400 processors. Those chips, code named Dunnington, are due out in the next month or so and will be built on Intel's current Core microarchitecture and 45 nanometer process formerly code named Penryn.

Dunnington is confirmed to be hardware and software compatible with existing Xeon 7300-based platforms and to possess 16MB of L3 cache across its six cores. It also features hardware enhancements for easing the migration of virtual machines from older quad-core Penryn- and Core-based servers.

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Intel's forthcoming Nehalem products represent the "tock" in the chip giant's famed "tick-tock" strategy for alternating manufacturing process advances with microarchitecture advances across its main CPU families roughly every year or so, meaning the "ticks" and "tocks" overlap within Intel's major new product lines. Penryn, last year's process transition, was the most recent "tick," with the transition to 32nm, or Westmere, due in the 2009-10 timeframe.

Intel's first Nehalem chips will feature 45nm process technology and later publications will be 32nm products, with Sandy Bridge, the microarchitecture "tock" following Nehalem, appearing first on 32nm devices and then 22nm chips, and so forth.

Intel has to date officially released only scant details about Nehalem. Key changes from the Core design include integrated memory controller technology called QuickPath which replaces its Front Side Bus architecture, the return of Hyper Threading for eight-thread support on a quad-core product, and a new cache subsystem.

The new microprocessors will actually retain the successful Core brand name and the first due out have been dubbed Core i7 by the chip giant.

Intel revealed Monday that the first Core i7 chip to come off the line will be an "Extreme Edition" quad-core desktop processor codenamed Bloomfield, scheduled for production in the fourth quarter. That product is reportedly a 3.2GHz processor that will be priced at $999. Two more quad-core Bloomfield chips are reportedly set to follow the black-logoed Extreme device -- a 2.93GHz Core i7 believed to be priced at $562 and a 2.66GHz Core i7 that will sell for $284, both desktop processors.

The first mobile Nehalem devices won't come out until the switch to 32nm and are code named Clarksfield (quad-core) and Auburndale (dual-core), according to some reports.

Next: More Gainestown Specs Revealed

An Intel spokesperson did say Monday that a DP server chip would join the Extreme Core i7 as the devices "we will see first on Nehalem." The first Nehalem DP server product on Intel's roadmap is codenamed Gainestown and it's identified as a 45nm quad-core Xeon chip set for "volume ramp" in the first half of 2009 on the slide presentation obtained by ChannelWeb.

Features listed for Gainestown on a slide titled "What's Next For 2S Xeon?" include DDR3 memory, PCI Express Gen 2 support and shared L3 cache. Also new is SSE 4.2, which includes support for XML acceleration. The advantages over the Core architecture that Intel lists include improved power management, 33 percent more micro-operations over existing Penryn products for better parallelism, and enhanced algorithms and branch prediction capabilities.

Intel also says its Quick Path memory controller architecture delivers "up to 25.6Gb/sec" of bandwidth per link on Gainestown. The chip giant claims in its presentation that the unnumbered Xeon chip enjoys a 33 percent energy efficiency advantage over a presumably comparable Opteron processor from rival Advanced Micro Devices, due to more instructions per clock on the Intel product.

On the virtualization front, Intel says the VT FlexMigration technology it developed for moving virtual machines on older Core servers to the newer Penryn platforms carries over and is improved on Nehalem. VT FlexMigration eases the migration of Live VMs across Intel server generations, which in Intel's words "allows future platforms to be entered into the virtual infrastructure pool" by IT budget planners, one imagines.

Some other Gainestown specs named in various reports but not mentioned in the presentation are also believed to be applicable to all three Bloomfield, or Core i7, chips. Specifically, the Gainestown and Bloomfield chips will have a 130W thermal envelope (as will an eight-core Nehalem MP server chip called Beckton due in Q2 2009) and slot into Intel's upcoming Socket B, or LGA1366, superseding Socket T on motherboards.

Intel is set to discuss more Nehalem details at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) scheduled for Aug. 19-21 in San Francisco.

Joe Kovar contributed to this article.