Intel Gearing Up For 32 nm 'Westmere' Chips

Intel released a statement Tuesday confirming that its transition from 45 nm to 32 nm -- the next "tick" in its vaunted "tick-tock" strategy of alternating silicon fabrication advances that shrink the size of its transistors with changes to its microarchitecture design -- is on track for the release of its first 32 nm chips at the end of 2009.

Those products, code-named Westmere, will follow the recent "tock" phase of Intel's road map, also known as the Nehalem microarchitecture, first represented in three quad-core Core i7 desktop processors made available in mid-November. Intel introduced its 45 nm process with its Penryrn-class chips in late 2007 and over the past year has brought that technology node to bear across its full product line.

In even simpler terms, "tick-tock" is essentially Intel's promise to deliver smaller chips in odd years and better chips in even ones. "Tick" updates like 2009's Westmere are driven by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore's eponymous "law" that predicts that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit will double about every two years at minimum component costs. Such increased circuit complexity also provides better chip performance, but Intel saves its really big performance advances for "tock" years, as per the major microarchitecture overhaul with this year's Nehalem update, which focuses on memory and multicore power management improvements.

The chip giant will provide further technical details about the 32 nm process at the International Electron Devices meeting (IEDM) next week in San Francisco. Intel will "describe a logic technology that incorporates second-generation high-k + metal gate technology, 193 nm immersion lithography for critical patterning layers and enhanced transistor strain techniques," the statement said.

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Intel, never a company to shy away from leapfrogging the hype around its next technology advance and talk about an even more distant innovation, also will discuss 22 nm CMOS technology, the next destination on its Moore's Law-driven road map. Ivy Bridge, the code name for Intel's proposed 22 nm family of chips, is expected to arrive in 2011.