Intel shows off Sandy Bridge processor

The successor to Intel's current Nehalem CPU architecture, code-named Sandy Bridge, will offer better graphics and aggressive power management
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Intel has revealed details of Sandy Bridge, its newest mainstream processor design, at the Intel Developer Forum 2010 in San Francisco on Monday.

Dadi Perlmutter image

Dadi Perlmutter introduces the Sandy Bridge processor design in his keynote at the Intel Developer Forum 2010 in San Francisco. Photo credit: Intel

Sandy Bridge is the second 32-nanometre processor design from the company, and the first to have fully integrated graphics as standard. To be called the 2nd Generation Intel Core Processor when launched, the new chip is due for volume production in early 2011. Intel said that the processor combines a number of features, including aggressive power management, HD and 3D support, and improved overall performance.

"We're putting together everything needed to build a PC on one piece of silicon with a billion transistors," Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of Intel Architecture, told the audience at his Intel Developer Forum (IDF) keynote.

Although the design will be available in various permutations, the one detailed at IDF has four cores plus a graphics unit, linked by a shared cache and a very high-speed on-chip ring interconnection bus running at 96Gbps with a 3GHz clock.

"This is very modular," said Bob Valentine, senior principal engineer at Intel. "The ring bus has over a thousand wires, but you can just remove cores in the layout, close the design up, reconnect the bus and produce a two-core product."

He added that there was no current limit to how many cores the bus could handle. "The ring will scale as far as we can look ahead, and we're looking ahead a very long way," Valentine said.

The chip also has an enhanced version of Intel's Turbo Boost mechanism, where individual cores could be run faster than normal if others were quiescent, providing that the overall power consumption would not exceed design limits. Sandy Bridge allows all cores to run faster for between 10 and 25 seconds if it has been previously running slower than normal and is cool enough to absorb the pulse of extra energy.

"This makes the chip very responsive when loading and initialising software, or in other cases when a burst of performance is needed," said Valentine. The integration of the graphics circuitry allowed it to be included in this mechanism, he said.

Intel has redesigned the processor's ability to process large blocks of data, such as that found when encoding or decoding high-definition video. The new instructions — called Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) — are 256 bits wide, twice that of their predecessors.

Sandy Bridge's principal graphic specialist, Tom Piazza, said that a number of design features had been included to improve performance, including replacing functions previously implemented in software with dedicated hardware. "For the past two years, the graphics have been catching up with the main processor," he said. "We've learned a lot about what works, so where we know that something is as good as it can get, we don't need to keep it programmable and can replace it with hardware."

The chip also includes a PCI Express (PCIe) interface, so can work with external graphics adapters for higher performance.

Intel has not published any performance figures for the new design, and has not said what configurations will be available at launch, although the company has said that notebook and desktop variants will be first to market with higher performance versions for servers coming later.

Sandy Bridge image

Although the Sandy Bridge design will be available in various permutations, the one detailed at IDF has four cores plus a graphics unit. Photo credit: Intel

Editorial standards