The news about Intel’s new 45 nanometer (!) process, and the first chip to use it (codenamed Penryn, it will be the successor to Conroe), is all over the net this weekend. Must have been an embargo date that expired or something. Disclosure: I work for Intel, but not in design or manufacturing, and I don’t know anything more about any of this than what I read on the web.
The nerdy gritty details: more than just another die shrink, the move to 45nm represents a breakthrough of a problem that has been limiting further progress towards smaller transistors in microprocessors: that is, previous materials started the lose the properties that made them work once they got smaller than a certain size. The new Intel 45nm process uses a “high k dielectric” material (hafnium) that lets the transistors get smaller than was previously possible, and still work.
What it means to you: chips based on the 45nm process will be faster, run cooler, and use less energy than the current generation of 65nm chips (a.k.a. Core 2 Duo). Prices should eventually come down, because it’s more efficient to make chips at 45nm (you can fit more onto a silicon wafer). It will also make it possible to fit more and more cores on a single chip, so the current Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors are only the beginning of multicore computing.
If you really want to get past the press release marketing speak, and find out more about Penryn and 45nm, Robert Scoble has you covered. He’s got some great video of a tour he did of Intel’s D1D fab here in Hillsboro, Oregon. I had wanted to hook up with him while he was here, but schedules didn’t work out. I definitely recommend the videos, though. He’s got some good blog posts around them as well – like this one with 31 interesting facts learned from his fab tour. Robert titled one of his posts “Your Next Mac Processor“, which is a good way of looking at it – Apple has consistently put the hottest processors from Intel into their systems, and when Penryn chips finally hit the market, I don’t doubt that they’ll show up in Macs shortly thereafter. He also speculates that Penryn and 45nm had something to do with Google’s recent decision to start buying Intel again.
Thanks for the coverage of Intel, Robert. Even though I work there, I’ve ever only been on one fab tour, and I’ve never seen D1D (which is the “flagship”, state of the art), so it’s fun for us “carpet dwellers” to get a closer look at the hardware side of Intel.
Now, if only we had a way to get a closer look at the software side of Intel… You did know that Intel is a software company, too, right? (This is called foreshadowing…)