Intel to Go Back to the Future with Next-Gen Chip Architecture

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-08-12 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Updated: The chip maker will discuss a new processor architecture in between details on new initiatives for desktops, notebooks, servers and even health care at its Intel Developer Forum.

Intel Corp. will have mobility on its mind at its Intel Developer Forum later this month.

Paul Otellini, CEO of the Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker, will kick off the three-day event, to be held starting Aug. 23 at San Francisco's Moscone Center West, with a keynote that will unveil the first details of a new processor architecture the company has been preparing.

Analysts expect that the architecture, which Intel hinted will become the basis for its future desktop, notebook and server chips, will draw heavily from the chipmaker's recent experiences with notebook processors.

A dual-core notebook chip dubbed Merom, which Intel has said will arrive late 2006, is expected to be one of the first new architecture chips.

Intel typically uses its developer forums or IDFs, which happen twice per year in the United States, to set the tone for its partners for months and often years to come.

It uses them to disseminate a wide range of information, including details on its processor road maps, updating its plans for communications chips, such as flash memory, and showing off some of its research projects.

At times, it even discusses new business ventures.

Click here to read more about Intel's dual-core processors.

Given its relatively new "strategy around platforms—which is a big shift for the corporation—we're going to be talking about [platforms] and our road maps, going forward, and making sure our partners…are aligned with us," said Rob Chapman, general manager for the Intel Developer Forum, in a briefing with reporters.

But the unveiling of a new chip architecture is likely to be the big news from the show.

Intel shifts its chip architectures much less frequently than it rolls out new processors. Intel last added a new architecture in 2000, when it introduced NetBurst, giving rise to its Pentium 4.

Although Intel declined to share details about the new architecture ahead of the conference—Chapman said only that Intel will offer detailed information, including its product and product platform plans at the IDF—the new architecture is expected to take a turn from NetBurst, whose emphasis was on high clock speed and multimedia, toward energy efficiency and accomplishing more work per given clock cycle, tendencies its Pentium M exhibits.

Building its future desktop, notebook and server processor lines on the same basic circuitry will represent a change for Intel as well.

Next Page: The Intel P6 architecture.

While the Pentium 4 was based on NetBurst—an architecture Intel also uses for its server chips—the Pentium M's foundation is in NetBurst's predecessor, the Intel P6 architecture.

P6, which Intel used for desktops, notebooks and servers, brought forth several generations of Pentiums, starting with the Pentium Pro in 1995. The last P6 processor was the Pentium III, which arrived in 1999.

But Intel used many of the elements of the P6 in the Pentium M, which first came out in 2003.

Certain elements lacking in the P6-based Pentium M, including 64-bit addressing, are certainly likely to be part of the new architecture, which could be seen as a merger of elements of NetBurst with the Pentium M's underpinnings.

Ultimately, "I think what they'll probably be talking about is an enhanced version of the Pentium M [architecture], adding 64-bits and increasing floating point performance," said Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report.

"They'll have to make some other tweaks to the processes as well to add scalability," which would aid its chips' transitions from dual cores to four cores or more.

Intel's new architecture pays tribute to its Pentium M. But, in some respects, the change also gives a nod to its rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Its new architecture appears to take a chosen a path similar to AMD's chips. AMD's chips, such as the Athlon 64, focus on delivering more performance per clock cycle and thus don't run as fast as Intel's Pentium 4s. The Pentium 4s, using NetBurst architecture, run fast—up to 3.8GHz—but don't accomplish as much work per cycle. The run fast approach has served Intel well for tackling multimedia applications, analysts have said. But Athlon 64s, more often than not, have either kept up or exceeded their rivaling Pentium 4s' performance on office applications and gaming.

Given Intel's shift to dual-core processors, along with a similar move by AMD, it made sense for Intel to choose the more power-efficient of its two architectural paths, another analyst said.

"Intel's existing Pentium M architecture was in that [work per clock] category," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research Inc. "Intel is picking one of the two architectures it has and going with it, and AMD is already in that [same work per clock] category."

Indeed, given its new architecture and its multicore designs, Intel likely no longer sees the need to keep its desktop, server and notebook circuitry separate anymore.

"I think that the key is dual core and they're looking at architecture unification and integrating mobility features into desktop and even server parts," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc.

Higher performance, yet power-efficient processors would change the game for desktop design, Kay said, causing the extinction of desktops as they are known today. The machines would morph from towers into more smaller, more notebook-like personal computing hubs, which could even attach to the back of a flat panel monitor.

In Kay's vision, a desktop "becomes a connector for high performance, high comfort peripherals," he said. "Notebooks will use the same technology, but the monitor is integrated. Comfort and performance is the desktop story and mobility is the notebook story. But, other than that, there's no reason to have them be that different."

Intel has already taken some steps in this direction by promoting desktops that use its Pentium M processor and unveiling plans to deliver Sossaman, a low-power server chip that's based on Yonah.

Yonah, a dual-core version of the Pentium M, is due out in notebooks next year. It's also the processor behind Intel's Napa notebook platform. Merom, for its part, will be the successor to Yonah.

Aside from discussions of its dual-core and multicore processor plans—2006 will be the year in which most Intel chips move to dual cores—as well as its next generation architecture, Intel will also detail its latest platforms plans.

Various executives will put forth detailed platform plans for notebooks, desktops, servers, and also update its digital home and digital office initiatives.

Intel will update its server platforms with new dual-core Xeon and Itanium 2 chips. The chipmaker is expected to announce next week that it has officially begun a campaign to seed servers based on its forthcoming dual-core Xeon and Itanium processors to customers. The chipmaker has also hinted, recently, that it may pull forward the launch of at least one of the new dual-core Xeons, which were scheduled for a first-quarter 2006 introduction.

Keeping with the mobility theme, Intel's platform plans for notebooks include pushing average notebook battery life to eight hours on a single charge by 2008.

Intel will also discuss some of its latest research products, including its "Platform 2015 vision," in which it predicts computing platforms will be self-aware and able to self manage.

The chip maker will also, for the first time, unveil its plans for the health care market. The company, which reorganized itself around product platforms in January 2005, made health care one of its priorities.

Throughout the conference, Intel will also touch on its so-called "star-Ts," which include technologies such as virtualization, manageability and security, which it will use to bolster its various computing platforms.

Finally, Sean Maloney, general manager of Intel's Mobility Group, will use his keynote to elaborate on Napa, as well as the company's plans for wireless formats, including Wi-Fi, WiMAX and UWB or Ultra Wideband.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include information on AMD and analyst comments.

Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.

 
 
 
 
John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET News.com, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.
 
 
 
 
 
























 
 
 
 
 
 

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