Intel's New Nehalem Microarchitecture

Nehalem is the name of Intel’s next-generation 45 nanometer micro-architecture. It is a processor architecture that will harness the processing power for a wide range of computers, ranging from ultra-portable laptops to high-end server equipment, utilizing a scalable amount of cores.

Intel Processor Soap Holder

The projection is that this new processor will make its entry for high-end computers later this year, with 4 and 8 core variants on a single die. With this introduction, Intel will sweep the old FSB architecture off the table.

Not CPU, it’s SoCs

Being touted as the biggest leap in processor technology since the Pentium 4, Nehalem will use the same 45nm production process as Penryn. It is said that the quad-core variation that’ll make its debut this year will house 781 million transistors (see Moore’s Law). It does the Nehalem injustice to call it a mere CPU, though. SoCs or ‘Systems-on-a-Chip’ suits this baby better. Why?

Nehalem Architecture

As illustrated by the image above, the Nehalem is indeed a complete system in itself, since it contains the processing cores, cache, and fast DDR3 memory on a single chip. Furthermore, the L3 cache, with its 8MB in capacity, is pretty huge, too. It also incorporates the newly-fangled QuickPath [Interconnect], which basically replaces the by now ancient FSB architecture. It’s a new point-to-point connection between the processor and other key components like the chipset and RAM. QuickPath will provide a tremendous amount of aggregate bandwidth, in comparison with FSB.

Since this architecture is scalable, it will be suitable for most all computing needs. Whereas the Pentium series was built around clock speeds, Intel’s new platform is centered around parallel bandwidth.

Integrated graphics, greener

Nehalem also promises 30% lower power usage when compared to its little brother Penryn, which is always nice. But the most interesting thing, in my opinion, has to be the option to include optional high performance integrated graphics into the architecture. This could lend an extra advantage to ultra-mobile devices like the eeePC – or any of the other lightweight laptops out there. But that’s just one of the possible uses for it.

Nehalem’s successor, Westmere will be shrunk to 32nm and should be ready for release by 2009.

My thoughts

It looks like this will be a breakthrough in day-to-day computing. It [moderately] breaks with old – yet tried – conventions. If nothing else, it’s delightful to see this kind of technology sprout out of Intel, which has been killing AMD big time with its Dual Core technology. I’m curious to see how it’ll work out and will keep you posted.

Read ArsTechnica’s great overview of the Nehalem for more information.

Geek Speak Explained

  • FSB: Front Side Bus
    The FSB is the transfer bus that carries information between the CPU and the Northbridge of the motherboard. [Wikipedia]
  • a die: rectangular fragment of a semiconductor wafer
  • cache: limited, high-performing memory that is placed close to the processor
  • DDR3: DDR3 SDRAM
    The improved reincarnation of its predecessor DDR2, promising lower power consumption (by 17%) and higher bandwidth. DDR3 is dimensionally identical to DDR2, except for the placement notch, since DDR2 and DDR3 modules are not interchangeable.

‘Intel processor and soap bar’ image courtesy of Flickr user ‘plataforma‘. This photo is subject to the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.
‘Nehalem processor illustration’ image courtesy of
ArsTechnica.com.

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