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Intel confirms dual-core desktop 'Smithfield'

But is it two Prescotts in one package or a single-die part?

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Intel today publicly confirmed the existence of 'Smithfield', the dual-core desktop processor it expects to ship mid-2005 and which started appearing on the company's internal roadmaps this past Summer.

However, the chip giant also acknowledged, again for the first time, that the chip may not be known as the Pentium 4. Even if that's the case, Smithfield may simply be two of today's P4s glued together in the same package, it emerged.

Steve Smith, VP for the Intel's Desktop Platforms Group, said Smithfield will initially be fabbed using Intel's 90nm process, but would migrate to 65nm in 2006.

By the end of that year, Intel expects over 70 per cent of its desktop CPU production to be dual-core chips, Smith said. That's an aggressive ramp, particularly since it's taken more than two years to get HT into 65 per cent of the desktops chips Intel will ship this year.

Smithfield has been on Intel's roadmap for sometime, with a mid-2005 shipping timeframe. The chip is believed to comprise 2MB of L2 cache, with 1MB linked to each core. Smithfield is also expected to support Intel's AMD64-like EM64T 64-bit addressing technology, along with an 800MHz frontside bus. It will use the LGA775 interface, Smith confirmed.

What all that will do for performance remains to be seen. Smith claimed by 2008, multi-core chips will offer ten times the performance of an "initial Pentium 4" processor, compared to the threefold gain today's HyperThreading chips provide. Next year, dual-core will see that improvement increase beyond 3x, but from we'll be well into 2006 and the 65nm node before multi-core gives a significant performance boost. Only then will dual-core offer a greater gain than HT alone will do by 2008.

Slides provided by Smith list Smithfield among a range of "next generation" processors, distinct from the single-core Pentium 4 line. That suggests Smithfield may not use that branding. Whether that means it's a 'Pentium 5', or will ship under another brand isn't clear.

However, Smith did confirm that Smithfield is a "Prescott-class" processor. What he wouldn't say is whether Smithfield is a dual-core die or simply mounts two Prescott cores into the same package, presumably with some extra logic to manage the flow of instructions through each.

Dual core, single die or clever packaging?

Smith would only say that Smithfield contains "two execution cores", not whether they're on the same die or not. Separately, he admitted Smithfield's clock speed range would be lower than the top end of today's P4 CPUs, to ensure the new chips "operate in the same thermal budget". Intel's roadmaps put those speeds at 2.8-3.2GHz, well below today's 3.8GHz P4 570.

These factors would suggest the multi-chip package option rather than the dual core, one die product many market watchers will be expecting. The fact that Smithfield will be a 90nm product adds weight to that - Intel can offer and market dual-core using existing technology while it perfects the process that will make it cheap to do so. Combining low-frequency, high-yield single-core dies in the first instance will help Smithfield's economics.

The latest internal roadmaps indicate Smithfield will have x20, x30 and x40 model numbers. Whether they are 7xx or 8xx series chips isn't yet known - 7xx would be the most logical given next year's launch of the 6xx series, but might cause confusion with the 7xx line, what the P4 Extreme Edition is expected to be called when the first 90nm part ships next year. Smith could not confirm Smithfield model numbers at this time. ®

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