updated 12:45 pm EDT, Mon September 13, 2010
Intel Sandy Bridge and eight-core Xeon at IDF
Intel as expected used its Developer Forum keynote to detail Sandy Bridge, the architecture behind what Intel now calls its second generation of Core chips. The 32 nanometer chips use a new ring architecture that moves the graphics on to the chip itself and lets them share cache with the core on virtually equal terms. The change and other optimizations should give it performance much closer to dedicated video and may finally make it suitable for regular gaming.
Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) are the other highlight and are intended to accelerate media tasks and use a 256-bit instruction base designed to target its namesake floating point math for chores such as media editing. As with MMX and SSE before it, AVX will need optimization in code but can potentially speed up many tasks in creative work.
Intel didn't detail the full roster of chips that will arrive, but early details have desktop chips starting with a 2.5GHz, low-power, dual Core i3 and scaling up to a 3.4GHz quad Core i7. Notebook processors should focus on the high end at first, with dual-core models ranging between a 2.5GHz Core i5 to a 2.7GHz Core i7 and quad-core models hovering between 2.2GHz and 2.5GHz Core i7 models. As with today, only the dual-core chips will be efficient enough to sit in thin-and-light notebooks; quad-core chips should be reserved for desktop replacement-sized portables.
Although mass production of Sandy Bridge is set for the end of this year, Intel now says that desktop and mobile chips will arrive at roughly the same time, at the start of 2011. Most major computer vendors usually adopt Intel's designs almost immediately, although companies like Apple often take time to optimize their hardware.
Intel also used IDF to show a working example of its next-generation Xeon architecture. The new eight-core design is built for one- or two-socket workstations and servers that have to operate under tighter power limits. The designs support Hyperthreading and, in a two-processor system, can handle as many as 32 threads at once. Pros may also have the advantage of AES New Instructions (AESNI), a new level of hardware encryption.
The new mainstream Xeons won't enter production until the second half of 2011 and will likely dictate the releases of Apple's next Mac Pro as well as similar workstations from Dell, HP and others.