Intel Unveils New Microarchitecture - InformationWeek

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Intel Unveils New Microarchitecture

With the ability to produce four cores on a single chip, Intel is hoping to regain sales that it lost to AMD in 2006.

Intel on Wednesday introduced a new microarchitecture scheduled for production next year that stands to increase the performance gap Intel has with rival Advanced Micro Devices.

Nehalem is the code name chosen for what Intel claims will be as big an architectural jump as the Pentium Pro when it was introduced in 1996, executives said at a San Francisco news conference. The new microarchitecture takes advantage of Intel's 45-nanometer production process, which enables the chipmaker to deliver two four-core processors in a single chipset. Currently, Intel offers a maximum of two dual-core processors in a single package.

In addition to unveiling Nehalem, Intel also revealed its next generation families of processors, code-named Penryn, would start shipping in the second half of 2007. Server chips are scheduled to ship first. Intel did not give a timeframe for availability of the desktop and mobile processors.

Along with a doubling of cores, Nehalem also introduces a maximum of 16 threads -- two per core. Multithreading enables software to split itself into two or more simultaneously running tasks, which can result in applications running faster.

However, the job of programming for the feature is time consuming. Intel introduced what it called Hyper-Threading in its Pentium 4 processors in 2002, but acknowledges that it's used primarily in the server market for running business applications. Software makers in the multimedia and gaming sectors have recently started using the technology to boost performance. "But it's still heavy lifting to move the (rest of the) software industry forward," Pat Gelsinger, senior VP and general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group, told reporters.

Nehalem also is the first microarchitecture to have graphics processing integrated within the processor, versus the chipset, which is available today. The new design is expected to boost performance of multimedia applications, and runs parallel to AMD's plans. AMD acquired graphics chipmaker ATI Technologies last year, and plans to offer chip-integrated graphics processing in 2009.

Gelsinger said Intel's introduction of integrated graphics has less to do with AMD than with current technology trends. Customers want certain key features, such as graphics, to get closer to processors to boost performance for online video and multimedia software. "It's the right way to build a system," Gelsinger said.

Nehalem also will introduce an integrated memory controller, which is a departure from its current Front Side Bus structure. Similar to Hyper-Transport and PCI Express technology, Intel's Common Serial Bus or CSI is more of a direct path that will be integrated to help improve managing the flow of data going to and from memory.

Overall, Nehalem, if delivered as advertised, is expected to give Intel the opportunity to move ahead in the market, where it has stumbled, analysts said. In 2006, Intel suffered a more than 11% drop in revenue, while smaller rival AMD nearly doubled sales because AMD's products were seen as more advanced, according to analysts at iSuppli.

AMD, however, is behind Intel in introducing a quad-core processor, which AMD said it will deliver sometime in the summer of 2007.

"On the server side, (Nehalem) hits right at the heart of the market," Jim McGregor, analyst for In-Stat, said. "This really puts them back in the race in the four-processor or more server market."

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