Nehalem who?The clock tocks
Intel is a company that doesn't do surprises very well. A well-laid-out roadmap disseminates what's coming in the next few years and rarely does the chip giant stray off intended goals - a situation helped by being both a design and manufacturing company.
Fitting in nicely to marketing speak, Intel is following what it terms a tick-tock model, where a new microprocessor architecture is debuted one year (tock) followed, usually a year later, by a move to a new smaller manufacturing process with a few additional features thrown in for good measure (tick).
Thinking of Intel's 65nm-based Core microarchitecture as a tock, bringing a new architecture to replace Pentium 4, it's been refined down to 45nm with the Penryn-class of CPUs (tick). The next tock, meaning new design, is Nehalem, which adds in a new design but retains the 45nm process that was proven by Penryn.
Nehalem, productised to Core i7 for the desktop, is what we'll be looking at today, but it's worth venturing a little farther afield to see what Intel has in-store before we get to the nitty-gritty of it. Why Core i7? We don't know. Perhaps someone can get a straight answer out of Intel.
Looking ahead, then, Nehalem's architectural guts will be largely kept intact for the die-shrink to 32nm - dubbed Westmere - and launched in 2010. A grounds-up design - Sandy Bridge - will then be launched on the 32nm process in 2011/2012.
Much like the Core microarchitecture before it, Intel is bringing in a new design that will be used for three disparate parts of the computing environment - servers/workstations (Xeon), desktop (Core i7), and mobile (mobile Core i7).
Of course, the different markets have their own computational needs but a basic building-block approach will be used to design CPUs for each instance. Server/workstation and desktop CPUs are officially announced today with mobile offerings coming in 2009.
Nehalem, though, is roughly analogous in its server and desktop forms so let's take a look at what makes it tick (ahem, should that be tock? ed.)