First Glimpse of Intel's 45nm Process Technology


A Breakthrough in Transistor Technology

A Breakthrough in Transistor Technology

60 years have passed since the invention of the first transistor in 1947 at Bell Labs and nearly 40 years since Intel was formed and developed the first PMOS polysilicon gate transistor technology, which is still used even today (albeit variations of it). And the technology rat race for advancing transistor technology and production process has continued ever since to quench the thirst of modern progression in the computing and electronics space. Today, 65nm CMOS process technology represents the leading edge of chip manufacturing and is well epitomized by Intel's latest Core 2 Duo processors. However, the next milestone in semiconductor process technology - the 45nm process - will soon be upon us.

Intel's 45nm process technology that will debut in their next family of processors will not just be a shrink in process technology with smaller transistors, but also a breakthrough in transistor technology itself. Featuring a new high-K dielectric and metal gate transistor design (actual materials not disclosed yet) as opposed to the conventional silicon-based elements, Intel boasts that this has improved the drive strength (or drive current) by 20% more than current 65nm based Core 2 Duo processors. Also, this design has reduced source to drain leakage by more than five folds and reduced gate oxide leakage by more than 10 folds.

Additionally, when combining these advantages with a smaller process technology, Intel has stated that its new 45nm process technology roughly offers twice the transistor density and a 30% reduction in transistor switching power as opposed to the current 65nm process technology. Bold claims indeed, but they did back it with a few more facts of their upcoming processors.


Penryn - The First 45nm Process Technology based Processor

After last year's release of the successful Conroe core, Intel's next step is shrinking it down with their new 45nm process technology. These 45nm processors will sport a Conroe-like architecture and will be know as the Penryn family of processors. Thus it's still the same dual-core processor architecture of Intel's current Core 2 Duo series. However Penryn will sport a much larger cache size, though no figures on it were revealed yet. What they did share however was the Penryn die photo and its expected transistor count at 410 million:-

Judging by the transistor count and die shot comparison with that of a Conroe and its 291-million transistor count , our own extrapolated estimation is that the Penryn may come equipped with 6MB of L2 cache. Already the difference between a similar clocked Allendale and Conroe core sees the latter with a performance advantage of around 5% to 15% at maximum. As such, we feel that a further 50% cache injection to the Penryn over the Conroe might only yield an average of 5% more performance. Of course both the cache size and estimated performance increase are our educated projections, but the real Penryn will surely have an optimized prefetch and caching mechanism to cater to its larger cache size, so we'll reserve further comments when we actually have some hands-on in the future.

Expect to see Penryn processors with variations for the desktop, notebook and server markets just like we saw for Conroe. Quad-core versions will follow the current approach of slapping dual dies on the same packaging for best yield optimization. As such, transistor count for the quad-core version is effectively doubled to 820 million. Currently expected configurations of Penryn processors are as follows:-

  • Notebook segment:- Dual-core Penryn processors
  • Desktop segment: - Dual-core and Quad-core Penryn processors
  • Server segment:- Dual-core and Quad-core Penryn processors

While these five SKUs above are just what Intel has let us in today, they did mention these are just a few of the total of 15 varieties planned for the Penryn processor family.

The 45nm process technology and added cache isn't the only difference you can expect from the Penryn family of processors. You can certainly expect Intel to push for higher clock speeds yet, but the interesting find is that Penryn will feature an updated microarchitecture for improved performance and capabilities via new SSE4 instructions. Targeted for media and HPC (high performance computing) applications, Intel's SSE4 was originally planned to appear in Nehalem, the next processor slated after Penryn. Intel did however carry on to assure that Nehalem will appear in late 2008 and it will primarily sport a second-generation Core microarchitecture.