Intel looks beyond clock speeds

The day after Intel launched its fastest processor to date, the 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, the company said it was "moving beyond...

The day after Intel launched its fastest processor to date, the 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, the company said it was "moving beyond gigahertz."

During his keynote speech at the Intel Developers Forum Paul Otellini, the executive vice-president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, ran a demo of a 3.5GHz Pentium 4, but devoted most of his speech to touting future Intel technology unrelated to processor clock speeds.

Otellini estimated that by 2005, two-thirds of servers built will small enough to be placed on racks. This would force chip manufacturers to focus on making chips generating less heat than current ones.

Proof that server vendors are eager to build smaller servers is the adoption of Intel's 0.13 micron architecture for building server chips, Otellini said. This architecture was originally heralded as the perfect architecture for notebooks because of its low heat and power consumption. It was also embraced for servers when manufacturers realised it allowed them to build smaller servers that required less ventilation, he said.

Forthcoming notebook processor architecture from Intel, code-named Banias, might also yield chips suitable for servers, Otellini predicted.

"Banias offers very high performance mobile computing at very low power," he said. "But low power is not only associated with mobile computing."

Otellini compared Banias' components to lights in a house, where individual lights can be turned off when not in use. By shutting down components not in use, a large amount of power is saved, he said.

Still, Intel's 64-bit Itanium architecture will remain the company's main offering for servers for now, mainly because of its scalability. Otellini touted Itanium's scalability by referring to the National Science Foundation's recent announcement that it will build a "TeraGrid"-distributed supercomputer using 3,300 of Intel's Itanium and McKinley processors. McKinley will be the second member of the Itanium family, and is due out early next year, according to Intel.

In order to ride the wave of this scalability, Intel has been putting "quite a bit of time into the reliability aspects of Itanium," Otellini said. Features of McKinley include extensive ECC (error correcting code), which corrects bad code in a computer's RAM, he said.

McKinley will also boast "enhanced thermal management," which, for example, could prevent the system overheating by shutting off certain pipelines and reducing the operation of the system without shutting it down completely, Otellini said.

Intel's next-generation Xeon server chip, code-named Foster, is also expected to be introduced next year. Foster will be based on the Pentium 4 but with added server technology, including hyper-threading, a technology which enhances performance by making a single processor seem like two processors to the software using it.

"This is essentially being able to address that single processor as if it were two machines," Otellini said. "We can even create multiprocessor systems with hyper-threading and get better performance."

The hyper-threading technology is essentially the same technology as SMT (Simultaneous Multi-Threading), the technology Intel gained for its 64-bit Itanium processor when it agreed to purchase the intellectual property behind Compaq's Alpha family of RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processors.

Hyper-threading will make its debut on server and workstation chips next year, and Intel hopes to follow on the desktop soon after, Otellini said.

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