Next-gen Intel chips branded ‘Core i7’

Exit Nehalem enter Core i7. In a move aimed to reduce ‘core’ branding confusion among chipheads and consumers alike the first generation of processors built on Intel’s forthcoming Nehalmen architecture will be christened ‘Core i7’.

With the new name comes a new logo. Two of them in fact: most PCs will sport a high-gloss polished treatment of Intel’s traditional blue while the Extreme Edition processors get a black version.

The ‘i7’ identifier will be attached to the first wave of Nehalem-class processors due by year’s end which will be built on the same 45nm die as the current Penryn chips but using the new Nehalem microarchitecture.

This will bake all four cores onto a single piece of silicon and introduces features such as an integrated memory controller with support for DDR a slab of Level 3 cache (up to 8MB on desktops and 24MB on servers) shared among all cores a point-to-point processor interconnect (named Intel QuickPath Interconnect) to replace the front side bus and integrated graphics rolled into the CPU package.

Core i7 chips will also sport simultaneous multi-threading which can handle two threads per core under the moniker of Intel Hyper-Threading Technology.

At the end of 2009 those chips will shrink to 32nm to enter the processor generation codenamed Westmere and the following year shift to the new ‘Sandy Bridge’ microarchitecture. At one of those two points (we’re tipping the latter) we’re likely to see Core i7 become Core i8.

“The Core name is and will be our flagship PC processor brand going forward” explained Sean Maloney Intel executive vice president and general manager. Intel’s press statement also noted that “(Core i7) is the first of several new identifiers to come as different products launch over the next year.”

Shifting the emphasis back onto the Core brand is Intel’s answer to the unexpected complexities created by the initial shift to the Core architecture in early 2006 and subsequent spin-offs such as the Core Solo Core Duo and Core 2 processor families which most recently resulted in the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad.

Resetting the naming clock to simple ‘Core’ will after an expectedly bumpy branding transition at retail make for a more logical rollout of successive chips and microarchitectures in the future. However we’d expect that necessary marketing extensions such as Core i7 Duo and Core i7 Quad will remain (Intel won’t release a singe-core Nehalem chip with a spokesperson commenting that “the lowest implementation we have in mind is a two core design”.)

And as the Nehalem microarchitecture will also be the foundation for Intel’s sixth-generation Centrino platform codenamed Calpella and due mid-2009 we may also be in for a ‘Centrino i7’ series.

While Intel hasn’t offered an explanation for the ‘i7’ we’d suggest this recognises Nehalem being the seventh generation of the company’s x86microarchitecture – the current Core platform can be considered the last gasp of the long-lived P6 microarchitecture which began with the Pentium Pro in 1995.

(Processor pedants will point out that P6 was succeeded in 2000 by NetBurst which was varying but never officially dubbed as P7 or the i786 architecture even though the P6 blueprint returned as the basis for the Pentium M in 2003 which then begat the Core platform. We’d like to point out that some people should get a life.)