Intel's powerful Penryn chip: just the start

Intel's upcoming Penryn PC processor is not only much more than just a die-shrink of the existing Core 2 chip. It's also the beginning of a larger effort by Intel to dominate the processor market and crush its main rival, AMD, according to product roadmaps revealed at IDF in Beijing this week.

Much was already known about the Penryn family of processors in the lead up to IDF. But with the release of detailed performance numbers and further architectural details, the second half of 2007 is odds on for some spectacular quad-core performance fisticuffs between Intel and AMD.

Heading up the list of enhancements for Penryn processors is the addition of the SSE4 multimedia instruction set. However, Intel has now revealed that Penryn will not receive the full SSE4 treatment - only 47 of 54 SSE4 instructions will be supported.

The final seven will likely arrive with Penryn's successor, Nehalem. Nevertheless, Penryn will still deliver a serious boost in media-related applications, Intel says, not least because of the new Unique Super Shuffle Engine which also improves performance for SSE2 and SSE3 performance to boot.

The 45nm shrink

The big news, of course, is the shift to 45nm manufacturing technology . As well as enabling Intel to squeeze a faintly ludicrous 12MB of cache memory into a single quad-core processor, Intel claims the use of high-K transistor gate materials deliver a sensational 10x reduction in gate power leakage. In practice, that should mean a huge reduction in power consumption and cooler running, high clocking processors.

Intel previewed 3.33GHz Penryns at IDF and confirmed the new chips will not exceed the power envelope of existing Core 2 processors, despite higher clockspeeds. However, bus speeds for desktop Penryn chips will remain pegged at 1333MHz. Only workstation and server derivatives will receive the faster 1600MHz bus.

Speaking of power consumption, mobile variants of Penryn also bring novel features including the new C6 powerstate, which allows the cache memory to be flushed and the execution cores almost entirely powered down when idling.

EDAT (Enhanced Dynamic Acceleration Technology), meanwhile, boosts performance in mono-threaded applications courtesy of independently overclocking a single processor core. Both of these new features will be exclusive to Penryn chips for laptops.

The final piece of the Penryn puzzle is motherboard support. Although Penryn will be socket-compatible with any LGA-775 motherboard, and Intel demonstrated the new chip running using the existing 975 Express chipset at IDF, the demonstration board had been modified with an updated voltage regulation module (VRM). It's likely few existing motherboards will have VRMs capable of properly supporting Penryn.

The future's bright

If that's the immediate future for Intel's processor plans, the long range roadmap looks just as exciting. Intel claims it will deliver 300 per cent improvement in performance-per-watt by 2010. The first step after Penryn will be Nehalem, a major revision of the Core microarchitecture which brings Intel's long awaited serial CPU interface and integrated memory controller in 2008.

Other Nehalem highlights will include up to eight execution cores and the return of Hyperthreading, last seen on Intel's ill-fated Pentium D processors. Fancy a 16-thread PC processor? Intel could be flogging one as soon as next year.

2009, meanwhile, will see the launch of Westmere, based on Intel's 32nm production process, currently in development, and boasting even higher clockspeeds. Finally, in 2010 Westmere will sire Sandy Bridge, another 32nm chip with wide ranging but as yet undisclosed architectural modifications.

It's a relentless line up of new processors between now and the end of the decade and poses a terrifying challenge for the likes of AMD. was the former name of Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.