Intel Announces Radical New Chip Design - Your Next Mac Will Scream

Intel Announces Radical New Chip Design - Your Next Mac Will Scream

Meet the next generation of Intel microprocessors, code-named Penryn, scheduled to appear later this year - and also scheduled to take your next Mac to new heights of performance.


Major microprocessor developments don't come along every other day - or even every other decade, for that matter. But today's announcement from Intel about its next line of chips, scheduled for delivery in the second half of this year, is an exception.


Who says? Well, take a look at this quote from Gordon Moore, Intel cofounder and author of the computing world's First Commandment, Moore's Law. (While reading his words, by the way, don't worry about technoterms such as "high-k" and "polysilicon gate" - just focus on the historical implications.):


"The implementation of high-k and metal gate materials marks the biggest change in transistor technology since the introduction of polysilicon gate MOS transistors in the late 1960s."


A founder of the world-changing digital revolution - and a man with a well-earned reputation of being a straight-shooter - says that today's Intel announcements are the most important microprocessor developments in 40 years.




When Gordon Moore talks, you should listen - and you should also listen when we say that he's right.


This morning, Intel held a worldwide conference call with top technology journalists (blush) during which the company made three major announcements. First, that it's moving its high-end microprocessor line from its current 65-nanometer process to a new 45-nanometer process. Second, that these new processors will be built using a new "high-k, metal gate" technology. (More - and more easily understood - info on this in a moment). Third, that in the latter half of this year it'll deliver five new microprocessors based on this new technology: a power-miserly 35-watt dual-core processor for notebooks (think MacBooks, MacBook Pros, Mac minis, and iMacs), dual and quad-core processors for desktops (high-end iMacs? entry-level Mac Pros? we'll see...), and dual and quad-core processors for servers (think screaming-fast Mac Pros). These five processors are all lumped together under the code name of Penryn.


Let's examine these announcements in order:


> 45-nanometer process. In the microprocessor world, the size of the transistors of which a chip is composed is defined as its process. In general, the smaller the process, the faster the chip, the less power it consumes, the cooler it runs, and the more features and functions that engineers can stuff onto a single chip, or die. A 45-nanomenter (45nm) process is exceedingly tiny, seeing as how one nanometer equals one billionth of a meter - you could fit more than 30,000 45mn transistors on the head of a pin. 45-nanometer chips will be fast, efficient, and versatile. Intel currently has one 45nm-capable manufacturing plant (in microprocessor parlance, a fab) operating in Oregon, with two others under construction in Arizona and Israel.


> High-k metal gate. In a transistor, a gate tells the circuit to which the transistor is attached whether that transistor is off or on. Think of it as a light switch - except a really, really, really tiny light switch. The better a gate can hold an electric charge, the more efficent and better performing the transistor can be.


High-k metal gates hold electric charges much better than do today's polysilicon gates. Intel explains high-k metal gate technology like this: "'k' (actually the Greek letter kappa) is an engineering term for the ability of a material to hold electric charge. Think of a sponge: it can hold a lot of water. Wood can hold some, but not as much. Glass can’t hold any at all. Similarly, some materials can store charge better than others, and hence have a higher 'k' value." Translation: High-k metal gates are highly efficient at holding electric charges, and thus make for highly efficient and fast chips. In addition, Intel claims that they have figured out how to equip their new 45-nanometer microprocessors with high-k metal gates affordably and reliably.


The high-k metal gate is a radical departure from the polysilicon gate technology used since the 60s. We could bore you to tears with the reasons why, but we'll instead simply say, "Trust us. It is." And if Gordon Moore says it's a Very Big Deal, who are we to argue? (To interject a bit of non-geekitude: This all may more sound more than bit sound esoteric, but later this year when you're watching complex iMovie effects render in the blink of an eye, thank the high-k metal gates in the processor that powers your new Mac.)


> Penryn microprocessors. Intel announced today that it has already produced 45nm microprocessors, is now putting them through the qualification process, and is slipping them into existing computers and using them to boot various flavors of Windows. We'd love to be able to report that they're also booting Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, but you know how notoriously secretive Apple is - in point of fact, there was no mention of Apple whatsoever in today's conference call.


The Penryn line - on paper, at least - is impressive. If you're a stat freak, you may be interested to know that while the current Intel top-of-the-line chips, the Core 2 Duos, have 291 million transistors, the dual-core Penryn's will have 410 million - and 820 million in the quad-core jobbies. The extra transistors are there to increase cache size, to improve Intel's SSE media-enhancement technology (now at SSE4), and to enable other performance enhancements. Penryn chips will also be lower-power than today's Core 2 Duo processors, and will have bigger caches and better power-management schemes.


Penryn chips may or may not be an automatic swap-out for current Core 2 Duo chips - the Intel reps on the conference call said that although there should be little problem with the new chips slipping smoothly into existing motherboards, some - many? - current 'boards may need minor modifications such as small electrical changes, although the Intel-supplied supporting chipsets will remain the same. However, knowing Apple's close working relationship with Intel, and having talked with a number of Intel engineers who expressed great satisfaction with that relationship (if a little discomfiture with the required secrecy), we expect there to be few if any problems in Apple's transition from its current Intel microprocessor line to the new Penryn chips later this year.


So, to wrap up:


> A smaller microprocessor-building process that allows for higher clock rates within the same thermal envelope, which roughly means the amount of power consumed and heat generated.


> A radical new way of managing transistor response that provides snappier performance.


> A new generation of way-fast chips that are already being produced in test quatities, are now being run through the qualification process, and which will be available in quantity for Apple to put into your next Mac later this year.


Do any of you still think the switch to Intel was a mistake?




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The Cell processors in PS3s run all the games,
using Cell processors in Macs would have made it easier to port games from PS3 and XBOX360 onto the Mac, even have a 'dual OS' CD of games with Mac on one side/ PC windows on the other side.
(VISTA breaks many games and older XP apps - Apple could have had a 'gaming' windfall.)

I groaned when I heard Apple switching to grandpa's CPUs (intels) while the PS3 and XBOX360 would use Cell processors.

Couldn't Apple use a larger, beefed up Cell processing system?
(A 64 cell processing array?)
Bigger and Badder than the PS3's chips, the Mac mini would make a great game console (they should package 2 game controllers with each mac mini).

Whatever Specs are going into the PS4 - the Mac should beat that, and have x5 times better graphics performance.



First of all, given the manufacturing problems with the Cell processors, we'd all probably have to wait months before getting new Macs if they used those. Secondly, while the Cell is maybe good for gaming, (I still haven't seen much evidence that it's worked out all that well for Sony so far, and developers don't seem all that impressed), it's not the sort of thing that's good for much other than graphics and the like. People use their Macs for more than gaming (not that I'm against more gaming on the Mac, but I think the Intel switch is a much better rout to that than crippling the macs usefulness outside of gaming). Finally, you mention it making it easier to port games from the Xbox360. Well I hate to break it to you but the 360 doesn't use the Cell processor. It uses a mondified Power PC processor with 3 cores. If you wanted to make it easier to port games from the 360, we should hae stuck with IBM. But then we'd have unbeleivably hot computers (whenever I put my hand behind my 360 while it's on, I'm amazed at the amount of heat coming out of there), that used tons of power, and probably still couldn't do most stuff as fast as modern Macs can.
With this new announcment by Intel I'm very encouraged abou the future of Macs, and will definitely be waiting a while longer to get a MacBook Pro!
On another note, I would like to hear some more info/analysis of what AMD/IBM are doing. They said on the same day that they have also essentially made the same breakthrough in some sort of partnership, though it doesn't sound like they're as far along. Despite realizeing that it was good for Apple to switch to Intel, I still have a soft-spot in my heart for IBM and the PowerPC lines of chips. Plus, if AMD does a good job with this, Apple will have yet another option for suppliers!



There are several reasons:

1. Mouse Control vs Game Pad

2. Mods

3. Better System Perfromance on PC (including Mac)

4. Better Graphics on PC (including Mac)

Consoles are locked into a mid-range architecture, whereas PCs can still be loaded up with tons of RAM, way faster system buses, insanely high-end graphics cards, etc. Any hard-core gamer worth his salt is on a PC platform today. Coding for the limited resources of a console box is no joy. And the firmware is terrible. I've always been annoyed by the slightly exagerated specular reflection that all surfaces seem to have on console boxes. Who wants jungle ferns in a tactical shooter that look like they are made out of rock candy? Now Nvidia and ATI are sporting dual GPU card configurations. Wicked crazy great!



Love new technology :)

Lets see what ATI and NVIDIA can do with this technology for their GPUs.

Of course Intel has thought of placing their own brand GPU on top of the CPU die for a while now. This could be the technology that fires the shot heard around the world that lands in the brain pan of ATI and NVIDIA and puts them both Resting In Peace (R.I.P.).



The cell is NOT what Apple wants because it isn't as power efficient and runs hotter. Two of the very reasons why they switched from the PowerPC chips to Intel in the first place.



Umm, Macs with Cell Processors? I don't think so. Sony's Cell Processors have been developed specifically for their games console, which is designed with the performance in mind for games. Although you can play games on a Mac, most people don't buy a Mac just to play games. Macs are mainly about everything else, outside gaming. If you really love the PS3 format, why not just buy a PS3? For everything else, buy a Mac.

Putting a chip specifically designed for a video games console into a computer designed for much more than gaming just doesn't make sense.

Besides, Cell Processors aren't everything. And stop whining about "Intels". The new Core2 chips are in a different league to the old Pentium 4s, so we can all stop making a fuss about Intel and enjoy true cross-platform compatability.



Now, I have to keep working until I get a couple of these new processors in a MacPro. :-(



Wonder if these will make it into MacPro this year?



From todays NYT:
"Intel said it had already manufactured prototype
chips in the new 45-nanometer process that run on
three major operating systems: Windows, Mac OS X
and Linux."

So here's hoping...only x more months to go?



Super exciting news! If power consumption and speed hold true, I'm saving up for one of these new Penryn Macs for sure! Well done MacLife for on the report!



I was so close to buying a new iMac this weekend, I have a G4 and wanted to get a new iMac to run bootcamp and of course get overall superior performace.

But, hearing this news I will hold off and wait for a iMac / Leopard / Intel upgrade announcement. And save money like someone else stated earlier.


THE Michael

Once we get to the point that 80% of everything the AVERAGE user does happens pretty much instantaniously, and they've moved from disk drives to flash storage, could we just cool it with the speed thing and work on the price? I'd like to be able to buy an Imac for $500, keep it for at least 6 years, and be able to go out and buy another one that hasn't morphed into something unrecognizable. There comes a point where a computor works just fine for what home computors do, and can be left alone, with all that research going towards some other gadget that might offer something a computor just can't do. Like wash my dishes and vacuum my floor, while I enjoy the hell out of my Imac.......hehe.



you need to learn how to spell before you can have any "computor" dumbass


Old Timer

Jeeeeeezus H. Moore! I was afraid that when you guys went all "MacLifey" on us old-style addicts that you'd ignore techy stuff. I guess I was wrong. Nice job, Rik -- I might even be able to pretend that I might even know exactly everything you are talking about. Fun to read, though, and gives me a good idea of what to expect in the next year ftom Apple. Keep this coming -- and let us know what AMD is up to, don't just be an Intel cheerleader.

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