Pentium 4 shrinks to 0.13!
When discussing the merits of one CPU over another, typical topics revolve around aspects of the CPU's micro-architecture. For instance, in the current Athlon versus Pentium 4 debate, the P4's 20-stage instruction pipeline always ends up being discussed at some point in the conversation; "sure, the long pipeline allows the Pentium 4 to reach breakthrough clock speeds, but is the tradeoff to work performed per clock cycle too high?" While some of you may deny that these types of conversations take place (CPU discussions are for geeks right?) one glance at FiringSquad's news post from last week concerning Northwood reveals that the great Intel versus AMD debate is still alive and well. One aspect of today's modern processors that isn't discussed as extensively however is the processor's manufacturing process.
The manufacturing process of the microprocessor is just that, a description of the materials involved in manufacturing the processor. The most frequently discussed aspect of the manufacturing process revolves around the average size of the transistors within the chip, measured in nanometers or microns. (One micron is equal to one twenty five thousandths of an inch.) Today's processors are built on 180-nanometer (0.18-micron) manufacturing processes, in comparison; the average human hair is 60 microns in diameter. In contrast, the two Pentium 4 chips we're reviewing today (internally codenamed "Northwood" by Intel) are built on Intel's more advanced 0.13-micron manufacturing process. By moving to a smaller manufacturing process, the size of the chip itself decreases. For instance, today's Northwood Pentium 4 chips measure a die size of 146 square millimeters, in contrast Northwood's predecessor, Willamette, measures in at 217 square millimeters; over a 30% reduction in area.
Keeping costs in check
With its smaller size Intel is able to squeeze more Northwood chips on each wafer. In fact, Intel estimates it will yield 2.5 times more chips per wafer thanks to its 0.13-micron fabrication facilities with larger 300mm wafers (200mm wafers are the current standard). With more chips produced per wafer, not only is chip production increased, but production costs are also lowered. Another key benefit of the smaller, 0.13-micron manufacturing process is lower power consumption. This allows Northwood chips to scale to higher clock speeds.
With production costs decreasing and clock speeds continuing to increase thanks to the new 0.13-micron manufacturing process, today's processor launches from Intel could dish out a crushing blow to AMD's Athlon XP. For not only will Northwood allow Intel to continue to wage its price war with AMD, the processor also brings with it one important performance enhancement.