Intel released its first “true” quad-core processors on Monday with the introduction of its Xeon 7400 series of server chips, formerly called Dunnington. Designed by Intel engineers in Bangalore, India, the chip lineup includes the company’s first quad-core and six-core chips produced on a single piece of silicon.
The Xeon 7400 series is the first chip to come out of Intel’s Bangalore design center. Established in 2002, the center had previously worked on another Xeon server chip called Whitefield. But that chip never made it to market. It was cancelled in 2005, when Intel revised its product road maps to better compete with Advanced Micro Devices, and the Indian design team soon put its focus on Dunnington.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Praveen Vishakantaiah, the chief architect of Dunnington, discussing the server chip in a phone interview. “No other team has been able to accomplish something like this so fast.”
Moreover, the Bangalore design center is the first Intel team outside the U.S. to complete the design of a 45-nanometer processor, he said.
The Dunnington chip design marks a technical milestone for Intel, as it uses a monolithic die, the term engineers use to describe putting all of the cores on a single piece of silicon.
Intel’s existing quad-core processor lines use two pieces of silicon, each with two cores, packaged together. That approach made the older quad-core chips easier to produce and avoided the manufacturing difficulties that hampered the release of AMD’s Barcelona chip — an x86 server chip with four cores on a single piece of silicon. Those difficulties were compounded by AMD’s transition to a new 65-nanometer manufacturing process.
Semiconductor manufacturing is as much art as it is science, and chip makers can struggle for months to get high yields from a new manufacturing process.
With the introduction of Dunnington — and the upcoming Nehalem line of quad-core processors that also uses a monolithic design — Intel waited until its 45-nanometer process was in mass production, with any technical difficulties presumably ironed out, before making this transition.