Intel is set to start production of its next-generation Xeon quad-core chips for workstations and servers ahead of schedule, which could then appear in systems as early as the first quarter of next year, a company official said on Tuesday.

"We're on track for production in the first quarter," said Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's server platforms group during an interview at the Intel Developer Forum. The chips will ship to system makers, and servers based on those chips could appear just "around that same time frame," Skaugen said.

The chips will be manufactured using the 32-nanometre (nm) process and be part of the Xeon 5000 line of processors, as used in workstations including Apple's Mac Pro, Dell's Precision T7500 and HP's Z800. The chips will be based on the Westmere microarchitecture, and will carry numerous upgrades over Xeon chips available today which are made using the 45-nm process.

"It's ahead of our expectations from a production, qualification and a ramp perspective. That's good news," Skaugen said.

Westmere is a process shrink of the Nehalem microarchitecture, which forms the basis of existing Xeon 5500 chips. Nehalem brings numerous performance improvements by integrating a memory controller, which provides the CPU a faster access path to memory. The microarchitecture also provides a faster pipe for the CPU to communicate with system components like a graphics card.

Westmere will bring improved performance and power benefits realized from new technology applied to the advanced manufacturing process, Skaugen said. The Westmere chip reduces power leakage by up to 30 times compared to the 45-nm manufacturing process, Intel has said.

The chips will be able to run two threads per core, meaning a quad-core chip can run eight threads simultaneously. This feature carries on from existing Nehalem chips.

Arrandale and Clarkdale

Intel will start manufacturing 32nm chips in the fourth quarter of 2009, though initial chips are expected to go into laptops and desktops. Intel said production of chips for mainstream systems code-named Arrandale and Clarkdale will start in the fourth quarter this year.

The company also showed off its first 22-nm wafer on Tuesday at the show. The 22-nm wafer was displayed by Intel CEO Paul Otellini during a morning keynote, which included 364 million bits of SRAM memory and more than 2.9 billion transistors in an area the size of a fingernail.

The 22-nm process will be used to make chips based on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, which will be the successor to the Nehalem microarchitecture. Sandy Bridge will feature a new graphics core and new instruction sets that could improve system performance, Otellini said.

The company is expected to shift to the 22-nm manufacturing process in the fourth quarter of 2011, and to the 15-nm manufacturing process in 2013.