Intel puts energy consumption on the agenda at IDF

SAN FRANCISCO – Intel Corp. on Tuesday unveiled more details on its next generation microprocessor technology products for mobile, desktop and server platforms, emphasizing improved energy efficiency and increased power performance.

Energy and power are two key themes at this year’s Intel Developer Forum here, which officially kicked off on Tuesday with keynote speeches from Intel executives. This year marks the tenth IDF conference, which is held twice a year in the spring and the fall.

While he is attending this year’s conference, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who has been in that role for one year, did not speak at this year’s conference. Instead, company CTO Justin Rattner delivered the conference’s first presentation, giving an overview of improvements to Intel Core microarchitecture over its existing Core Duo product.

“Energy is on everyone’s mind. It’s the next frontier,” said Rattner. “Not only has it become a critical concern in our daily lives, it has become a critical concern in every platform that we deal with.”

Since the first Pentium chip was introduced in 1993, every increase in performance has required an increase in the amount of energy expended, said Rattner. A chart comparing performance versus energy per instruction showed that the amount of energy has increased by a factor of four from 1993 to the Pentium 4 in 2005. Intel’s Celeron M Processor, which is used in mobile platforms, was the first of Intel’s processors that was successful at maintaining a constant level of energy per instruction. This combo of energy efficiency and performance has found its way into other platforms such as Intel’s Xeon and Core Duo chipsets.

“Today the IT manager is under pressure from many different fronts,” said Pat Gelsinger, Intel senior vice-president and general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group. “Almost 80 per cent of a company’s IT budget is spent on keeping existing services running.”

At last year’s IDF, Intel had five dual core chips in silicon. This year, Intel has 12 of its products that it said will be delivered by year-end in dual core.

“By the end of this year, over 85 per cent of Intel’s server platforms will be dual core,” said Gelsinger, who also spoke at Monday’s keynote. Intel also plans on introducing multicore products to its offerings by 2007, he added.

That claim will be easier to do with the announcement Monday that Hewlett-Packard Co. will launch seven new Proliant systems including workstations, servers and blade systems based on Intel’s upcoming Woodcrest microprocessor.

For Intel’s dual core chipsets, Merom (mobile), Conroe (desktop) and Woodcrest (server), the chip manufacturer is claiming from 20 to 80 per cent increase in performance, depending on the platform, and from 35 to 40 per cent reduction in power consumption. All of these platforms will be based on 65 nanometre (nm) silicon technology. Intel plans to start developing chips on 45 nm silicon by this year with plans to release products next year.

Responding to Intel’s performance claims, rival chip manufacturer Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which was also in town this week for press briefings off-site, questions Intel’s benchmarks.

“We don ‘t know where they got those numbers,” said Brent Kerby, product marketing manager, server and workstation marketing, Microprocessor Solutions Sector, AMD, who met with ITBusiness.ca on Monday at a briefing here. “We have a pretty considerable lead in the mobile and desktop space. They’d have to be doing some credible architectural changes.”

AMD, which uses an integrated memory controller in its chipset design compared to Intel’s external memory controller, has one output to the main memory, allowing for latency reduction and faster memory access. In an external design, said Kerby, anything that has to go out to the main memory has to pass through the front side bus, which requires more power.

AMD on Monday announced three new models of its dual core Opteron chip, which is designed for servers and workstations. These include the Model 885 for up to eight-way/16-core enterprise-class servers, Model 285 for two-way/four-core workstations and the Model 185 for one-way/two-core servers and workstations. The 885 and 285 are currently available with the 185 expected within the next 30 days.

AMD plans on releasing its next generation Opteron chip, which will include support for DDR2 memory, by the third quarter of this year. Current AMD chipsets only support DDR. DDR2 memory can decrease the amount of memory watts required from one to two per controller, said Kerby.

“The new memory tech from Intel will be two-times less from a power standpoint,” he said. “Intel’s external memory controller adds an additional power burden to them.”

Aside from power and performance, which dominated much of the morning’s presentations, Gelsinger also discussed how IT is also investing in new capabilities such as virtualization. Since it began shipping virtualization technology (VT) in hardware last year, over 13 million computers are now VT-enabled, he added. Intel on Monday announced the release of the specification for virtualization technology, which will allow I/O devices to be assigned to virtual machines.

Intel also announced an extended partnership with VMware Inc. in which the virtualization software company will support Intel’s next generation VT in its products that will begin shipping in 2007. At last year’s IDF, VMWare and Intel jointly announced its initial support for VT.

IDF wraps up on Thursday.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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