Truly Integrated Graphics

Strangely, integrating the memory controller goes against Intel’s “80 Core Processor” ideal as well, where the company claimed that it wanted to build a CPU of many mini-cores, differentiating products by their core count as opposed to clock speed and cache sizes. This allows far easier scalability in the future, but the problem with adding a memory controller into the CPU core is that each of the new cores now needs to be wired into it. On a motherboard, adding traces is not that hard and new motherboards get made in far greater quantities than new CPU architectures get produced. This presents the technical challenge of making a processor die to have the “potential” of everything - have a huge substrate and separate memory controller chip or planning for a dozen different processor design variations for just one family. They all have their problems, whether it’s additional cost, lower performance or a phenomenal amount of work. This is partly the reason why AMD can’t just throw another dual core die onto its CPU substrate to make a quick AMD Athlon X4 range, like Intel has done with its current quad core processor.

Regardless, Intel has all the makings of a killer processor that might leave AMD gasping for air, as the Athlon family is due to have its major fundamental performance difference taken away from it.

Integrated graphics... on an Intel?

It speaks of the old saying, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and Intel may have realised that AMD was going to progress down the right track with Fusion, integrating an AMD CPU and ATI graphics core into one die space. As graphics cores become fundamentally more CPU-esq in their general calculation ability, as well as the fact that including a graphics core on CPU means less power consumption, lower latency and space savings, this certainly seems to be a logical step forward. With this model you don’t need a separate IGP (integrated graphics processor) on the motherboard and traces that require more space and power. The results could be a lower cost PC, a smaller PC and thinner, cooler, lighter notebooks with longer battery life.

With Intel now pushing the mini-itx form factor, having an all-in-one CPU will mean that a massive percentage of board real estate is reclaimed for other components. It also means cheaper motherboards as a manufacturer doesn’t have to include a northbridge and/or graphics processor, as it’s down to the end user to source at their own cost. For example, the cost difference between a moderately larger micro ATX motherboard and mini-itx motherboard can be three or four times as much in favour of micro ATX.

Intel expressed that the integrated graphics will be in the same vein as its current integrated graphics, which realistically is for non-gaming systems . This is essentially to remain within the TDP envelope, but including any extra graphics processor means that the CPU cores will have to be exceptionally low power. There is a computational advantage however, as the CPU could possibly palm off calculations to the graphics core when it isn’t heavily utilised.

However it eventually turns out, Nehalem looks set to offer an interesting future of optimised low power coupled with increased performance. While AMD Fusion now has a direct competitor, Intel has tipped this for being a mid-2008 product and Fusion is due Q408/Q109. Could Nehalem and Intel beat AMD to market at its own game?

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