Intel readies Penryn chips, may release Silverthorne early

Intel confirms it will release a server version of Penryn before year end, but is saying little about plans for mobile and desktop versions of the chip

Following the launch of Intel's quad-core Xeon 7300 processor on Wednesday, the company's efforts are now focused on preparations for the rollout of its first Penryn chips later this year. And there are signs the company is planning an early 2008 release of its Silverthorne chip for ultramobile PCs and handheld devices.

Intel confirmed plans to release a server version of Penryn before the end of this year, but the company is releasing little information about its plans for mobile and desktop versions of the chip. Penryn will offer better performance than Intel's current processors, and the company is counting on them to hold off any gains rival Advanced Micro Devices makes with the release of its quad-core Barcelona chips next week.

"So far what we've said is that we intend to ship a broad family of 45-nanometer processors by the end of the year," said Nick Jacobs, an Intel spokesman in Singapore, referring to the technology used to produce the Penryn chips.

Penryn is the code name given to the 45-nanometer "shrink" of Intel's current chip designs, which are now produced using a 65-nanometer process. These numbers refer to the average size of the features that can be created on a silicon chip, and smaller is considered better for several reasons, including cost.

Making the size of features smaller allows chip makers to reduce the chip's overall size, which reduces unit manufacturing costs since more chips can be made on a single silicon wafer. Chips made using a more advanced manufacturing process can also consume less power and run faster than those made using an older process.

In the case of Penryn, Intel will take advantage of the ability to shrink the features of a chip to cram more memory cells into its processors, increasing the on-chip cache size and further boosting performance.

The first Penryn processors are widely expected to come in November, but Intel has yet to announce exactly when the launch will happen.

In addition to the release of Penryn chips for servers later this year, Intel is expected to release the Yorkfield and Wolfdale desktop variants of Penryn in early 2008, with some speculating that high-end versions of these desktop chips could arrive before the end of this year.

Intel is holding off on the release of mobile Penryn chips until early next year, when the company plans to update its Centrino platform for notebooks.

Dunnington, a chip designed for servers with four or more processors, will round out Intel's Penryn lineup. Set for release in late 2008, Dunnington will replace the Xeon 7300 chips that Intel announced Wednesday.

Intel is also readying Silverthorne for launch next year. Produced using a 45-nanometer process, the dual-core Silverthorne chip is very small, allowing 2,500 chips to be produced on a single wafer to help keep costs low. The chip is designed for low power consumption and comes bundled with a single-chip chipset called Poulsbo.

Intel originally planned to release Silverthorne during the second half of next year. But the company moved the chip's release date to the "first half of 2008." That timeframe could mean anything from January until the end of June, but one Intel source said the chip is likely to come sooner rather than later within that timeframe.

Asked about an early 2008 release date for Silverthorne, Jacobs would only confirm the chip's planned release is on track for the first half of the year.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.