Last week, Intel began shipping a new processor based on its 65 nm manufacturing process. Though it will not start showing up in the market for up to 90 days, it is a significant upgrade over its Itanium predecessor; it sports four cores and eight threads per core and operates best with DDR3 memory. Formerly dubbed Tukwila, the Itanium 9300 processor uses a socket design that will remain unchanged for upcoming Itanium versions, including one code-named Poulson that will be manufactured using Intel's new 32 nm manufacturing process.
Intel's new offering was announced on the same day that IBM announced the release of its new Power7 chip, which is destined for a higher-end market. Intel has been experiencing growth in its server processor sales lately, and some of this growth appears to be due to the slow but steady increase in cloud computing. Companies with large data centers like those common to cloud vendors continually upgrade servers to improve their levels of service and much of the benefit of these upgrades is going to Intel.
Intel is also rebranding one of its high-end desktop chips for the server market. The Gulftown Core i7 980X will be known simply as Westmere EP and will feature up to six cores with 12 threads each at 3.33 GHz. In addition, Intel is planning some big things for its 32 nm manufacturing process including a chip code named "Sandy Bridge," which will have an all-in-one core that includes the CPU, graphics, and memory controller. The 32 nm process will also reduce the Thermal Design Power (TDP) to as low as 65W for a chip with graphics on the processor. Production of the 32 nm chips isn't expected until the first quarter of 2011, but it could be a boon to customers who want a smaller thermal and power consumption footprint.
Intel has had a spate of bad luck recently. Problems with older versions of its Itanium chip caused blue screens in Windows operating systems and have led to the company losing market share to rival AMD. Manufacturing problems delayed shipment of Tukwila, with stories of the delays going back more than a year. Though the microprocessor giant probably isn't losing much server market share to AMD, delays in its new chip lines might lead customers to consider some of the new offerings from IBM and Sun.
I think that some cracks are starting to show in Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors that can be economically put on a chip will double about every two years. Intel's difficulty in ironing out the problems with its Itanium line may be a sign that the pace of progress may slow some. But writers have been talking about the end of Moore's Law for more than a decade, so maybe I am just the latest one to make that observation.
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