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Components & Peripherals News

Intel Fires Up U.S. Fabs For 32nm Westmere Chips

CRN Staff

"We're investing in America to keep Intel and our nation at the forefront of innovation," said Intel CEO Paul Otellini, appearing in Washington D.C. to detail the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's plans to invest $7 billion over the next two years to upgrade three factory sites in the U.S. and help "accelerate the Westmere production ramp."

At a separate event in San Francisco on Tuesday, Intel executives shed some light on just how Westmere production is being "accelerated." The chip giant will bring two high-volume 32nm fabs online in 2010 and a pair of planned 45nm processors has been muscled off Intel's road map in favor of 32nm variants.

Havendale and Auburndale -- code-names for late-generation 45nm desktop and mobile processors that had been scheduled for late 2009 or early 2010 production -- have been "deprioritized," according to Stephen Smith, operations director for Intel's Digital Enterprise Group.

Instead, Intel will focus on producing and ramping its first 32nm products, a desktop processor code-named Clarkdale, and a notebook chip called Arrandale, Smith said. Both are dual-core, four-thread parts based on Intel's Nehalem architecture (first seen in the 45nm Core i7 lineup Intel released last November) and are matched with the upcoming Intel 5 Series chipset.

The last of Intel's major 45nm client releases will now apparently be a pair of quad-core, eight-thread processors due out in the second half of 2009 -- Lynnfield for desktops and Clarksfield for notebooks. Those chips, as well as the first two 32nm variants (once again, Clarkdale and Arrandale for those going googly-eyed at all the code names) are platform-compatible, likely welcome news for Intel partners having trouble pitching the expensive platform upgrades necessary for the Core i7.

That means that 45nm Lynnfields and 32nm Clarkdales both drop into the same pair of upcoming desktop platforms -- code-named Piketon (the business-ready vPro board) and Kings Creek (the consumer platform). On the mobile side, both the 45nm Clarksfields and the 32nm Arrandales are attached to the upcoming Calpella platform. All four planned products tap the forthcoming 5 series chipset.

Next: Now It Really Gets Interesting The first 32nm products, unlike their 45nm antecedents, slap a brand-new 45nm GPU in the same package as the Westmere processor core. It would seem Intel doesn't want to waste all that extra package space it gets from shrinking the CPU and at the same time reducing its integrated graphics to 45nm from the current 65nm generation.

It's not quite the leap to a single-die CPU-GPU product that many had been expecting from Intel or rival Advanced Micro Devices by now, but Intel's proposed Clarkdale and Arrandale products involve a pretty major repartitioning of the chip maker's client platform. The upshot is that Intel gets what it needs in terms of I/O, the memory controller and microcontroller, integrated graphics, etc., onto a two-chip platform rather than the three-chip partitioning of those functions on its current platforms.

The last update to the client road map was the confirmation of a six-core, 12-thread desktop chip -- Intel's first for a client -- that's scheduled for a 2010 release. Code-named Gulftown, this 32nm processor is supported by the same X58 Express chipset originally tuned to the Core i7 parts, but demands a new motherboard platform that has yet to be code-named.

Smith focused primarily on those client updates but did confirm that the first 32nm Xeon-branded processors would, in fact, be the Clarkdale desktop chip with additional support for entry-level servers. Like the desktop-tuned variants, those are due out by the end of the year, to be followed in 2010 by 32nm Xeon parts for multisocket configurations.

Counting R&D expenditures already on the books, Intel will be investing a total of $8 billion in 32nm process technology and manufacturing, according to Smith. "We're making our largest ever investment in a single generation of process technology in the United States with our 32-nanometer investment," he said, adding that the chip giant has spent approximately $50 billion on developing new technology since 2002.

Intel's Westmere production will happen at four U.S. fabrication plants, said Intel senior fellow Mark Bohr, who led the discussion of advances in process technology at the San Francisco event.

These include two development fabs in Hillsboro, Ore. -- D1D, currently online as a 32nm fab, and D1C, which will be brought online in the fourth quarter of this year -- and two high-volume fabs that will begin 32nm production in 2010 -- Fab 32 in Chandler, Ariz. and Fab 11X in Rio Rancho, N.M.

Intel's 32nm technology involves the second-generation of the high-k and metal gate transistors introduced with the 45nm node and the chip maker's first crack at immersion lithography for critical silicon layers, Bohr said. The process shrink pays off with roughly 22 percent performance gains for the smaller transistors, about 14 percent less leakage and improved chip yield.

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