Door Redactie Tweakers

Chip magicians at work: patching at 45nm

Stephen Fisher

This is a translation of a Dutch article that can be found here.

Most people who visit the Californian town of Folsom, which lies at a two hour drive to the northeast of San Francisco, go there because it is situated close to the beautiful Lake Tahoe and some of the skiing areas in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Driving around the picturesque, characteristically American town, which has about 70,000 inhabitants, does not readily suggest that it is also the birthplace of one of the most advanced pieces of technology that man has so far produced.

Talking to the locals would probably change that, since the presence of the huge campus at the edge of the town - seven buildings displaying large 'Intel' logos - can only mean that nearly every inhabitant of Folsom knows someone working there.

Within the complex some seven thousand men and women do all kinds of work at the various departments, and these days they pride themselves primarily in that it is the location where the world's first 45nm processor was developed, tested and perfected. Tweakers.net was shown around the facility and spoke to Stephen Fisher, lead architect of the Penryn project.

Stephen FisherFisher has been on Intel's payroll for quite some time: he worked on the 486 cpu, the definition of mmx and sse instructions, and also on the Pentium III. The previous product that Fisher worked on was codenamed 'Tejas'. It was to be a 65nm version of the Pentium 4 with an extremely long pipeline of 40 to 50 steps, in order to achieve clock speeds of 7GHz or even higher.

Work on Tejas had progressed considerably when it dawned on Intel, back in 2004, that there was no future for the Pentium 4 architecture. The team had just achieved the 'tape out'-point when news came in that the project had been canceled. The 'tape', which was meant to be sent to the factory to make the first physical version of the chip, is now lying in a safe gathering dust.

Needless to say, this was a disappointment for Fisher, but he wasn't without work for long. Immediately after cancelling Tejas two new projects were started: Penryn and Nehalem. Two teams started simultaneously and from the same starting point: an early alpha version of the Merom architecture, which is now known as Core 2 Duo. However, the Penryn team was supposed to finish a year ahead of the folks that worked on Nehalem.


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