Intel CPU busts 2 billion transistor barrier

Intel has dished out details of a brand new Itanium quad-core CPU with a record-busting two billion transistors. Like all Itaniums, the new chip is aimed at high end servers and computer clusters and is expected to go on sale later this year.

Codenamed 'Tukwila', Intel claims it's the world's first two billion transistor microprocessor.

The monstrous transistor count is also the latest milestone for Moore's Law. That's the remarkably accurate prediction made in the 1960s by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that computer chip densities would double every 18 months. Quad-core Tukwila will replace the existing dual-core Itanium 9100 series chips.

Making up many of those two billion transistors is an incredible 30MB of on-chip cache memory. Intel's biggest desktop CPU die, by contrast, gets by with just 410 million transistors and 6MB of cache (two such dies are crammed into a single package to create a Core 2 quad-core processor with 12MB of cache).

New CPU, old production tech

Surprisingly, however, Tukwila is based on the relatively elderly 65nm production process. Intel CTO Justin Ratner told us the exceptional demands of engineering such a complex chip prevented the use of the latest 45nm process. Producing Tukwila in 45nm would have made for a smaller, cheaper and more power efficient chip. Ratner speculates that Intel might skip 45nm and jump straight to 32nm for its next major Itanium revision.

Despite the 65nm technology, Intel has managed to boost Tukwila's clockspeed to 2GHz and reckons it delivers double the performance of previous Itanium processor. Meanwhile, power consumption has risen by a reasonable 25%.

Much of the performance boost, of course, is thanks to the addition of an extra pair of execution cores. But just as significant is the introduction of the QuickPath interface along with a brace of integrated memory controllers. Just like Intel's desktop processors, previous Itanium processors relied on a separate computer chip situated on the motherboard to pump data in and out. The new design promises a big boost in bandwidth and a similar reduction in latency.

QuickPath to the desktop

QuickPath is due to appear on Intel's next generation Nehalem desktop processors towards the end of 2008. Tukwila also sports a number of further enhancements including support for two threads per core. However, Intel says its core microarchitecture is essentially unchanged from the existing Montevale-vintage Itanium design.

Tukwila is slated to go on sale in the second half of 2008. And it won't be cheap. Pricing has yet to be revealed, but going by the sticker price for existing 9100 series Itaniums, don't expect much change from £2,500 for each processor.


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