Processor Whispers - About foundries and hot irons
by Andreas Stiller
AMD comments on the ARM rumours and holds a big developer conference on the topic of Fusion. Intel might offer its manufacturing services to Apple and presents the "revolutionary" 22 nm process with Tri-gate transistors
No, AMD says, it has no intention of switching to the ARM architecture for small mobile devices. ARM's technology hero Jem Davies had been invited to Bellevue/Seattle as keynote speaker for the AMD Fusion Development Summit in June but AMD only wanted him to drum up support for topics like heterogeneous computing and OpenCL.
However, Davies, just like his boss, Warren East, seized the opportunity to fuel the speculation. According to them, AMD is currently reconsidering its mobile strategy and so there's a good chance for ARM to hook up. AMD, in the shape of product manager John Taylor, felt obliged to straighten things out – AMD also intends to stick to x86 for the tablet sector. After all, their Bobcat processors and Brazzos platforms are selling very well with netbooks.
Source: Intel With the aforementioned developer conference, AMD finally follows suit – Intel with its IDF and NVIDIA with its GTC have been holding large-scale developer conferences for many years now – AMD used to only have smaller Tech Day events. NVIDIA has recently postponed its GPU Technology Conference, which was planned for October, to April or May next year. NVIDIA says it is to steer clear of the Supercomputer Conference in November and to better position itself internationally. Many observers of the scene think NVIDIA just won't manage to have its next chip, called Kepler, ready in time and thus needs a few more months.
Also, thanks to a net profit of $580 million in the last quarter, AMD can now afford a big event, although most of this profit results from a revaluation of AMD's stake in Globalfoundries. The operating profit only amounted to $54 million in comparison to $182 million in the same quarter last year. The drop is mainly due to losses in the investment sector as the processors brought a profit of $100 million (same quarter last year: $146 million). The graphics branch made $19 million (last year: $48 million).
With the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition, clocked at 3.7 GHz, AMD now offers the quad-core processor with the fastest clock speed on the x86 market (with 6 MB of L3, 125 watts TDP, $195 OEM price) – that's quite close in frequency to the discontinued fastest Pentium 4 models 570, 670 and 672, which managed 3.8 GHz and, in their time, had a bad reputation as energy wasters because of their 115 watts TDP. The new Phenom also has a free multiplier that will certainly allow for 4 GHz and beyond with, consequently, higher TDP values.
While AMD is one of the few companies in the IT business that, despite all efforts by ARM, still doesn't own a single licence from the small British design company (whose newest important client for ARM Cortex A9/A15 is LG, by the way), Intel owns quite a few. With Infineon's mobile branch, Intel gained licences for various smaller ARM chips; but Intel also holds licences for ARM946 and, in particular, for the multicore chip ARM11 MPCore, the heart of the HTC Wildfire, iPhone 3G, iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle, Nintendo 3DS and Nokia N800 tablet. Analysts now see the possibility that Intel, if not as processor supplier, might at least act as manufacturer for partner Apple's iPads and iPhones. After all, Apple is at loggerheads with its current manufacturing partner Samsung over numerous tablet and smartphone patents. And as with the iMacs, Mac Pros and MacBooks, the cooperation between Intel and Apple apparently works just fine. Just recently, Apple launched the new iMacs with Sandy Bridge processors, which are the first desktop systems to feature Intel's new Thunderbolt Interconnect technology.
And Something Else
Intel invents multiplication: Under the title "Multiplying two numbers" Intel has now been granted US patent 7,930,337. Unlike, for instance, kindergardens in Germany that have to pay a fee (GEMA-Gebühr) for children's songs, schools probably won't have to pay extra fees for teaching the multiplication table. The grandiloquent title refers to a special implementation of the Karatsuba algorithm – developed by the Russian mathematician Anatoli-Alexejewitsch Karatsuba in 1960 – for faster calculation of large number multiplications.
At the beginning of May, Intel also demonstrated its technology headstart with a large-scale webcast about the 22 nm process. Indeed, with its manufacturing technology, Intel is at least one year ahead of its rivals. The P1270 process utilises numerous "tricks" so it can continue to create such tiny structures with its 193 nm lasers. In the past, every physics student could have proven that this is physically impossible – and yet, it isn't. Already for the 32 nm process a liquid (probably water) had been inserted between the lenses and the wafer; just this so-called Immersion Lithography alone makes it possible to create structures about 40 per cent smaller.
What CEO Otellini announced as revolutionary progress goes far beyond clever miniaturisation tricks. Intel is the first to conquer the third dimension of silicon CMOS chips for mass production. Intel researchers had already presented the tri-gate transistor technology in 2002 – for 65 nm then, but now, nine years later with 22 nm, the technology is ready for implementing in processors. Actually, its introduction had already been expected with the 45 nm process, but the classical CMOS transistors still sufficed for that. Tri-gate processors have lower leak currents and are therefore more power-efficient than common standard transistors. AMD, IBM and others have also been working for many years on similar technologies (FinFet).
The Sandy Bridge chip, shrunk to 22 nm and fully equipped with the new tri-gate transistors is called Ivy Bridge. Recent roadmaps foresee its launch at the beginning of 2012. According to what server boss Skaugen said at the IDF in Peking, the corresponding chipset Panther Point will not only feature Thunderbolt, but finally also USB 3.0. It really is about time.