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August 23, 2005

Intel aims low on power

Low power consumption is the new focus for future Intel Corp processors for desktop, server and mobile computers, chief executive Paul Otellini said yesterday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

By CBR Staff Writer

Otellini announced Intel’s newest microprocessor architecture, which is designed to reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 3x across a range of its silicon products.

What we will get for the first time in a long time in a single and persistent platform for software developers, Otellini said during his first IDF keynote as Intel’s chief executive.

Three new dual-core processors based on the architecture also were revealed, codenamed Merom for notebooks, Conroe for desktop computers and Woodcrest for servers. The products are slated for release during the second half of 2006.

Otellini demonstrated prototype systems powered by each new chip during his IDF keynote.

The new processor trio would be 64-bit compatible and boast virtualization, platform support and management features, as well as new advanced power capability. They promise improved memory access with better pre-fetching and memory disambiguation.

In a move to drive down power consumption, the new chips would not include hyper-threading, which enables a single processor core to perform multiple tasks. However, VP of Intel digital enterprise group Stephen Smith said future processors built on the new architecture may include hyper-threading.

Driving the need for reduced-power computing is the escalating price of electricity and the march of mobile-computing devices, Otellini said.

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Left unchecked, power effect and heat generation would have limited the types of devices you have built today and the ones you would have built in the future, he said.

Google Inc fellow Urs Holzle joined Otellini on stage to talk up the need for low-powered, dual-core machines. For Google, he said power consumption was an issue as the company’s computation demands continue to rise.

The big difference from multiple CPUs is power, Holzle said. Power costs could soon dwarf hardware costs. You would spend more money on the electricity company than you would on your hardware.

Intel’s upcoming Conroe processor for desktops would consume a maximum of 65 watts, compared with existing Pentium 4s that use almost 95 watts. Woodcrest would take in a maximum of 80 watts versus current Xeon server processors that max out at 110 watts.

Merom for notebooks would consume 5 watts of power max. An additional ultra-low voltage Merom that consumes just 0.5 watts is slated for release at the end of 2006. Existing Pentium M processors use about 22 watts, while ultra-low-voltage Pentium Ms consume 5.5 watts.

Otellini said that by the end of this decade, Intel would have another x86 architecture that would enable processors that are 10 times faster than current chips and have ultra-low power consumption, as low as 0.5 watt, or about one-tenth of the lowest-power processors available today.

Low-powered multi-core processors would enable a new class of mobile computers that Otellini called Handtops (for lack of a better name). They weigh about one pound and have 5-inch screens, with all-day battery life and built in WiFi and WiMAX wireless capabilities. Otellini demonstrated reference designs with slide-out keyboards.

This is not science fiction, he said. We expect customers to bring products based on existing ultra-low technology in the first half of 2006.

Upcoming dual- and quad-core processors, including the trio announced yesterday, would be based on Intel’s new 65-nanometer manufacturing process. By the third quarter of 2006, Otellini said he expects shipments of its 65-nm CPUs would surpass those of its current 90-nm based processors.

Intel is in the early stages of ramping up its 65-nm factories, Otellini said after his speech. Going forward, the company would break from its traditional practice of configuring existing chip fabrication facilities, or fabs. Instead, Otellini said he expects Intel would build more new fabs, such as the planned $3bn facility in Arizona that the company announced late July.

Dual-core Intel products would overtake single-core in the fourth quarter of 2006, he said. Currently, the chipmaker has more than 15 dual-core projects ongoing, and more than 10 four-core or more projects in development, Otellini said.

Single-core processors, however, are not dead at Intel. We expect single core will exist for quite some time, said Intel’s Smith. For instance, on its roadmap is the single-core desktop Cedar Mill processor, slated for release early next year.

Intel’s relatively late foray into dual-core processors has not gone unnoticed by its rivals, including chief competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc, which today ran full-page ads in several US newspapers challenging Intel to a public dual-core benchmark showdown.

Asked if he would take AMD up on its challenge, Otellini replied, I’ve always thought that companies and products are best judged in the marketplace. I’ll leave it at that.

In a move away from its usual marketing, Intel has deliberately not named its latest architecture, Otellini later told reporters. The chipmaker instead would spend its spin dollars on names for specific products built on the new architecture, he said.

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