Intel introduces hyper-threading into 3.06 GHz P4

TORONTO — Good things comes in threes according to the adage, but Intel Corp. hopes great processors come in 4s.

The Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker announced Thursday the addition of hyper-threading (HT) technology to its 3.06

GHz, Pentium 4 processor. In a nutshell, HT allows the CPU to process two different threads at the same time, creating the illusion of two CPUs.

Those most likely to benefit are multitaskers, according to Intel of Canada country manager Doug Cooper, and almost everyone is multitasking, whether they’re aware of it or not. For example, he said most corporate users have anti-virus software running and other programs in the background, but whatever application was running on top got the lion’s share of the power.

“”Making the software think it has two CPUs means we’re able to get over and above the clock speed, able to get on average 25 per cent better performance,”” Cooper said.

To take advantage of the feature, however, users need to be running either a version of Windows XP or select versions of Linux. It will also help if the applications were written with HT in mind. To that end, Cooper said it is working with software developers to take capitalize on the technology.

As far as adoption is concerned, Cooper said he expects to see early adopters pick up the chip next year in the first quarter.

IDC senior analyst, PC semiconductors, Shane Rau said the HT effect is a long term process, but Intel is on the right road.

“”They’ve launched chip sets, they’ve launched processors and they’re working with software vendors — specifically Microsoft — to make sure that hyper-threading is supported by the software,”” Rau said.

The growing number of behind the scenes tasks running on a PC could drive HT adoption, he added.

“”Virus scanning, security checking, automated back-ups for example,”” Rau said. “”And I think these will become more pervasive applications. So they’ll be able to benefit from hyper-threading, again, provided the software is written to take advantage of it.””

Rau said this also marks part of the move away from using clock speed as the major feature of a chip. AMD, for example, barely mentioned clock speed at a launch this fall, choosing to highlight other features.

“”Hyper-threading falls in that later category. It’s a way to make a processor more efficient,”” Rau said. “”Maybe it’s also a sign that the scales are tilting away from megahertz into more of a balance between changes in architecture to make the processor more efficient.””

The latest Intel chip costs US$637 in 1,000 unit quantities and is being used in systems built by MDG, Dell, Alienware and Gateway. In other chipmaker news, AMD said it will cut 15 per cent of its workforce, or about 2,000 employees to help cut expenses by US350 million.

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