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Intel plans beyond 'Core 2 Duo on steroids'

Upgrade to Centrino's Santa Rosa in the works

The next version of Intel's Centrino notebook platform, called Santa Rosa, will hit the market next month, but the company is already looking ahead to other products, including an updated ‘Santa Rosa refresh’ and a quad-core mobile processor set for release next year.

The update to Santa Rosa will be based on a mobile Penryn processor, the name given to the upcoming 45-nanometer shrink of Intel's current chip designs. The first Penryn chips will be produced later this year and the updated version, or refresh, of Santa Rosa will hit the market during the first half of 2008.

"We will be able to take Penryn, the 45-nanometer [chip], and plug it into exactly the same platform to enable a fast ramp," said Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile platform group.

Underscoring how close these chips are to commercial availability, Eden showed off a laptop running a Penryn mobile processor at a press event ahead of the company's Intel Developer Forum conference, which starts in Beijing on Tuesday. "The product is pretty healthy," Eden said.

When Santa Rosa - which Eden described as "Core 2 Duo on steroids" - hits store shelves in May, it will offer several capabilities not found in current Centrino systems. One of them will be Dynamic Acceleration, which raises the clock speed of one processor core above the guaranteed frequency level when the other core has powered down.

This raises the performance of the remaining core, while insuring the processor continues to operate within the thermal limits envisioned by Intel engineers - a consideration that differentiates Dynamic Acceleration from overclocking, where users raise the frequency of a processor beyond the level the system was designed for, Eden said.

But Eden, who wants to see Intel chips in high-end notebooks, understands some gamers and hardcore users will want to push their systems past the performance limits set by Intel. For this market, Intel is preparing a mobile chip for gamers that allows overclocking.

"We've opened the design in such a way that you can overclock, but it's your responsibility to take care of cooling on your own," Eden said.

Also on Intel's roadmap is a quad-core Penryn mobile processor to be released during 2008, aimed at high-level gaming and mobile workstations, where users are willing to trade battery life for more performance. The chip is unlikely to find its way into most notebooks for some time.

"You'll see it at the high-end, but I don't see it running so fast into the mainstream because I don't believe there will be enough threaded applications that will justify the tradeoffs," Eden said. Multithreaded applications allow several parts of code to be executed simultaneously and take advantage of the multiple cores used with the latest processors.

The quad-core mobile chip will likely be different in some way from Intel's current desktop and server quad-core chips, which strap together two dual-core dies inside a single chip package, but Eden did not offer details. One possibility is the release of a quad-core chip on a single silicon die - something that Intel has hinted will come in the future, but has so far not discussed in concrete product terms.

Ultimately, the design of the quad-core chip will be determined by the realities of notebook PC designs. "You can imagine that because we are speaking about notebooks that we have special constraints from cooling, from space," Eden said.

(Steven Schwankert contributed to this report.)


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