Macs

Intel updates laptop, desktop chip plans

Intel on Tuesday accelerated plans to release two dual-core laptop and desktop processors, tweaking its road map as it juggles manufacturing efforts to cut costs.

The company will ship dual-core processors for mainstream laptops and desktops made using the 32-nanometer process, skipping plans to release similar chips manufactured using the 45-nm process. The chips will ship in the fourth quarter.

The road map update will quickly bring the latest technologies to laptop and desktop chips, company officials said during a press conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. Intel officials could not say when those chips would reach laptops and desktops.

The 32-nm-process chips will be an upgrade over existing 45-nanometer chips that go into current desktops and laptops. The chips will be cheaper to manufacture, work faster and draw less power.

The early shift to the 32-nm process will reduce Intel’s manufacturing cost, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

The new chips could also bring excitement to a sore laptop market and provide users a reason to upgrade. For essentially the same cost, users will get a jump in performance with the latest technology Intel has to offer, Gold said.

The new dual-core laptop chips code-named Arrandale replace Nehalem-based Auburndale processors, Intel said. Intel will also ship 32-nm dual-core desktop chips code-named Clarkdale, which will replace Nehalem-based Havendale chips.

Arrandale will boost graphics performance while drawing less power than Core 2 processors, said Stephen Smith, vice president and director of group operations at Intel. The new chips will also be more energy-efficient, which could improve laptop battery life.

The clock speeds will be similar to chips used in existing laptops, but offer better performance at a similar power envelope by running more threads via each core.

The new chips will be part of Westmere microarchitecture, which is a shrink of Intel’s existing Nehalem microarchitecture. Nehalem, which is used in Intel’s Core i7 desktop, integrates a memory controller and provides a faster pipe for the CPU to communicate with system components. It is considered a significant upgrade over Intel’s earlier microarchitectures, as it cuts bottlenecks to improve system speed and performance-per-watt. Intel earlier said it would ship dual-core laptops and desktops built around Nehalem in the second half of 2009.

Demand for chips is shrinking, so Intel has to take a drastic step to improve demand for its products, said analyst Gold.

With chip demand slowing, the returns on developing 45-nm laptop chips may also be minimal, Gold said. Intel’s shift to the 32-nm process is smooth, which provides an incentive to quickly move to Westmere chips, he said.

“The optimum time to shift is when demand is down and risk is less,” Gold said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said the company would spend $7 billion over the next two years to revamp manufacturing plants.

Intel is prioritizing its move to the new 32-nanometer process technology to lower chip-manufacturing costs and increase production. That will help the company make more chips at lower costs and add efficiencies to the production process, Intel officials said on Tuesday.

The new manufacturing process will also help create tiny integrated chips that can be fit into devices like set-top boxes and TVs, Intel said during its fourth-quarter earnings call in January. That could help Intel enter new markets and add revenue opportunities.

Intel will begin producing chips with 32-nm circuitry in four fabs starting in late 2009. A nanometer equals about a billionth of a meter. In chip manufacturing, the figure refers to the denser features etched on the surface of chips. Chip manufacturers like Intel and AMD are building smaller and smaller transistors into chips to perform quicker and draw less power.

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