Intel synchronizes their processor strategy on a tick-tock system. Just like clockwork, Intel switches between architectural changes and improvements in process technology every year. In other words, we can count on a new microarchitecture and process technology from Intel every 2 years or so.
The tick phase heralds a new architecture, or at least an improved one. That would be like the introduction of the Core microarchitecture in 2006. This will be followed by the tock phase one year down the road, which would feature an improved process technology. The cycle then restarts a year later with Intel introducing a new microarchitecture (tick again).
With the introduction of the Core 2 processors in 2006 (the tick phase), the next step would naturally be a transition in process technology (tock). Everyone knows this will be the 45 nm process technology. The real question is when? We expect this in late 2007 to early 2008 but the grapevine has it that we will see Intel's 45 nm processors very, very soon.
We were recently informed by an anonymous source that Intel is merely waiting for AMD to release their Barcelona processors before they clobber them with their 45nm die-shrinked processors. In fact, Intel is already producing these 45 nm processors at one of their fabs. This should be Fab 32 in Arizona. If that is true, then AMD is actually going to determine when Intel release their die-shrinked processors. Funny, isn't it?
It makes sense though. Until AMD launches the Barcelona, Intel have no reason to start selling 45 nm processors. They can just sit back, relax and let their 65 nm processors ring up the cash till. In fact, we only expect Intel to release 45 nm Intel Xeons to zap the Quad-Core Opteron. We don't expect to see the 45nm Wolfdale processors until AMD launches their desktop Phenom processors.
So, watch out for Intel's 45 nm processors. They are coming out sooner than you think.
AMD has been harping on the superiority of the monolithic design they used in their upcoming Quad-Core Opteron processor and Phenom X4 processors. Everyone expects Intel to follow suit, but from what we heard, Intel does not intend to go down that path quite so soon. They will continue to use two separate dual-core dies for their 45 nm quad-core processors.
Right now, there is far more benefit in going with the separate die approach than a monolithic quad-core die. Not only will this ensure high yields, it allows Intel to achieve higher clock speeds by matching dies of the similar speed grades before packaging them.
AMD's monolithic design may have some performance advantage but the maximum clock speed the Barcelona processor can achieve will be determined by the slowest of its four cores. The large die size would also greatly reduce its yield. Maybe that's why there are reports of ODMs complaining about the lack of 2.0 GHz parts for the soon-to-be-released Quad-Core Opteron processors.
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