Die shrinks are big deals in the PC industry; transitioning to smaller manufacturing processes means faster switching times and greater transistor density, usually resulting in cooler, faster and more feature-filled CPUs and GPUs.

Intel just recently began its transition from 65nm to 45nm transistors with the release of its Penryn based Core 2 CPUs. The benefits of smaller manufacturing processes are made clearly visible by the Penryn example; despite having 50% more cache than its predecessor and more features (e.g. SSE4), each Penryn die measures 107 mm^2 compared to a 65nm Conroe at 143 mm^2. Transistor density also went up tremendously, as Penryn crams 410 million transistors into less space than 291 million transistors with Conroe.

We just saw a more dramatic showcase of the improvements smaller transistors can bring to GPUs with AMD's new Radeon HD 3800 graphics cards. The RV670 GPU is built off of TSMC's 55nm process and very similar, architecturally, to the 80nm R600 used in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. The die size and transistor density have both improved tremendously thanks to the new process, as has power consumption. The table below should give you some hard numbers to look at:

 Microprocessor Manufacturing Process Die Size Transistor Count Transistor Density
Intel Core 2 Duo (Conroe) 65nm 143 mm^2 291M ~2.03M per mm^2
Intel Core 2 Duo (Penryn) 45nm 107 mm^2 410M ~3.83M per mm^2
AMD Radeon HD 2900 XT (R600) 80nm 408 mm^2 700M ~1.71M per mm^2
AMD Radeon HD 3870 (RV670) 55nm 192 mm^2 666M ~3.46M per mm^2

 

In both examples, the move to a smaller transistor feature size results in a tremendous increase in transistor density on the order of 90 - 100%. On the PC side, these increases are nothing new, Moore's Law has been hard at work for decades now and we keep reaping the benefits in the form of better, faster, cheaper products. With Game Consoles however, the story is a little different.

Game console hardware must remain largely unchanged throughout the life cycle of the system, which these days is somewhere in the 4 - 5 year range. The whole point to a closed game console system is that you have one spec of hardware to develop for, introducing faster CPUs and GPUs in the middle of the life cycle just wouldn't fly. Since adding features and performance isn't possible, the only real benefits to process shrinks for chips in game consoles are cost, heat and noise reduction, all of which are still important.

Microsoft just recently dropped the price of its Xbox 360 and around the same time, rumors crept up about a quiet introduction of 65nm CPUs into the bill of materials. The original Xbox 360 manufactured from 2005 up until August of this year all used 90nm chips; the CPU, GPU and eDRAM were all fabbed on a 90nm process, which was state of the art at the time. However, as you've undoubtedly noticed with Intel's recent move to 45nm, 90nm is more than dated now.

A move to 65nm would undoubtedly reduce power consumption, potentially make the console quieter and obviously make it cheaper to produce. With the Xbox 360 there's also another side effect that many surmised would result from a move to 65nm: increased reliability.

The Red Ring of Death
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  • Deusfaux - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    that the GPU isn't yet, and that a platform with both @ 65nm is still coming down the pipe, expected next year and has the codename of "Jasper"

    Where do I get this information? Oh, I dunno...

    http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=9248">http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=9248
    Reply
  • zephyrprime - Sunday, November 18, 2007 - link

    It doesn't matter what MS says. Anandtech has physically measured the dies and thus has hard evidence that what MS says is false. What's more, given the die size of the parts, it seems like the Falcon is actually a shrink to 80nm for both processor and GPU, not a shrink to 65nm for the CPU as MS has stated. Reply
  • j00k - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    i wonder why it takes MSFT so long to make the move in die shrink. CPU's already been in 65nm for quite awhile. By the time they transition to 65nm for gpu next year, everyone would have been on 45nm. im sure the technology's there already but what's the holdup? Reply
  • Deusfaux - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    ok so MSFT didnt say it but still Reply
  • j00k - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    The new xbox 360 mobo also appears to have some solid capacitors, which the old didn't seem to have any at all. I'm surprised that wasn't pointed out as I'm sure it should help quite a bit in keeping the system stable even at high temps. It's certainly a huge deal in the desktop mobo arena. Reply
  • sprockkets - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    wonder why they did that, seeing as how they do not need to last long anyhow. Well, as long as the other caps were rubycon or japanese, that is ok. Wonder what the cost diff is between them and solid caps?

    I like the last graph that the consoles use only 2.3 watts and 2.8 watts during the game.
    Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    Good to see someone scientifically documenting the differences. I had read before that Falcon had only reduced the GPU size, not CPU. Good to hear that it's both.... I guess I'll probably bite the bullet and finally buy an Xbox 360 this holiday season. Reply
  • yacoub - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

    well the article doesn't really answer the important questions, like whether or not the GPU and CPU run cooler, so not sure why you find the conclusion that the hardware has changed enough reason to buy when we don't know if the changes actually make a bit of difference toward addressing the pressing issue of RRODs. Reply
  • Orbs - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    What about heat? Can you put a thermometer through the "flashlight holes" in the case to see if temps improved too? Die shrinks should help but the less intense heatsink may offset that.

    In terms of the RRoD question, if the cause was heat (which is not confirmed) a test like that would help show if this will in fact increase reliability.
    Reply
  • Jopopsy - Friday, November 16, 2007 - link

    Yes Anand, please post some information about the heat coming off the Zephyr and Falcon PCs !!! Most of us, from a practical perspective, don't really care so much about the die size as much as we care about the heat (as the heat has been tied to RROD).

    I for one bought a Elite 4 days ago. It was not a Falcon. It had a LG/Hitachi drive in it and it was definitely a Zephyr board. It was too loud for my tastes, and it was H O T ! ! !. It felt like a blow dryer out the back of the unit and my table was actually hot to the touch right behind my system.

    Went back to the store, found a Falcon (Premium 360 HDMI Holiday bundle LOT 739 Team FDOU - components verified w/ flashlight inspection). It has a Toshiba drive in it, and after 2 hours of Halo 3 it was only warm out the back (remarkable differance).

    I have some confidance that this Xbox might last (if it RRODs on me anytime soon I'm getting a PS3).
    Reply

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