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Intel enters billion-transistor processor era

Posted by iTech - 2005-10-15

Intel Corp. has started sampling an Itanium-2, 64-bit microprocessor that was made by linking together 1.72 billion transistors. The processor, codenamed Montecito, was discussed as far back as August 2002, but it is now sampling to some Intel customers, a company spokesman said.

Montecito exceeds the billion-transistor count because the Itanium-2 processor architecture is itself complex — a 64-bit processor intended for server applications — and the Montecito model integrates two processing cores. It also has 26-Mbytes of on-chip cache (208-Mbits), according to reports.

Intel’s first dual-core processor for mobile applications such as notebook computers, code-named Yonah, is also due to start shipping for revenue at the end of the year and to launch in volume in 2006.

Intel announced it was accelerating its schedule to get to one billion transistors on an IC in July 2004, saying it was aiming to deliver a billion-transistor chip in 2005, rather than the original target date of 2007.

"The goal was a billion transistors in 2007. The [new] goal is a billion transistors in 2005," said Jai Hakhu, vice president of Intel's Technology Manufacturing Group at the time. "This has been advanced by a couple of years," Hakhu then added, without elaborating on which Intel chip would reach the milestone first.

The chip industry has produced monolithically integrated billion-transistor circuits for some time in the form of DRAM and flash memories with monolithic capacities of 1-Gbit and more. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. announced in September that it had developed a 16-Gbit NAND flash memory, made using a 50-nanometer manufacturing process technology, with mass production planned for the second half of 2006.

That memory is believed to store 2-bits of data per cell but the number of transistors on that 16-Gbit sliver of Samsung silicon is greater than the number of human beings alive today. In the next generation every person alive or dead could have one of the transistors named after them with plenty to spare.

The industry broke the million transistor barrier with 1-Mbit DRAMs in 1986 and with the Intel 80486 32-bit processor in 1989. The 80486 was manufactured in a 1.0-micron CMOS manufacturing process, had 1.2 million transistors, and operated at up to 50-MHz clock frequency.



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