Intel Doesn't Add Many Details On Multiprocessing Plans

Burned by a series of production missteps and canceled products, the company lets AMD get out in front on multicore product announcements.

September 7, 2004

3 Min Read
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Intel is shifting its product-development budget from traditional methods for increasing computer chips' performance to new "multicore" designs that will debut next year, president Paul Otellini said in a keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday. But technical details about how the company will design those chips, and how much computers that use them will cost, are still uncertain. Intel, the world's largest maker of computer chips, has been investing in new kinds of chip designs that can continue to deliver the sharp increases in computing performance that the IT industry depends on for sales and profits. But traditional methods of goosing performance by increasing chips' clock speed aren't yielding the fast gains the computer industry has seen in the past. In addition to increasing its chips' frequency, Intel's new products will emphasize off-chip technologies and multiple computing "cores" on each processor that can yield performance gains while avoiding problems with excessive heat that have plagued chipmakers as they continue packing more transistors into their products each year.

"We're moving from an era of, 'How many chips in a computer?' to 'How many computers in a chip?'" Otellini said. He noted that Intel will continue to increase clock speeds. "At Intel, Moore's Law is alive and well," he said, referring to the decades-old prediction that computing power doubles every year and a half. But the company is also developing hardware and software and making venture-capital investments that can improve its chips' ability to run computers that are more mobile, communicate more easily over wireless networks, and deliver better data security. "It's a better way to explain our technologies to end-users," Otellini said.

Next year, some of Intel's processors for desktop PCs, notebook computers, and servers will feature multicore technology, Otellini said. He demonstrated a version of Intel's Itanium processor for 64-bit corporate and scientific computers code-named "Montecito" that incorporates the multicore design. But he declined to say whether Intel's 32-bit Xeon chips will include the technology, noting that the company has become more conservative this year in how it communicates its plans. Intel has suffered a series of production missteps and canceled products in recent months.

"Intel is keeping the wraps on their plans," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with technology consulting company Illuminata. Intel CEO Craig Barrett has ordered the company to be more conservative about product details until the company is sure they work, he says. For example, it's unclear which microarchitectures Intel will base its multicore products on or how much cache memory they'll contain.

Meanwhile, competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has been discussing more detailed plans for its multicore products. "It says something about Intel's strength in the market that they're willing to let AMD get out in front on announcements and then catch up," Haff says.Also uncertain is how much business customers will pay for computers that use the new multicore technology. Microsoft hasn't said whether it will license Windows for PCs and servers with multicore processors at a higher price than for single-core machines, Haff says. "If Microsoft decides to treat dual-core desktops as two processors, that's going to be an issue for end-users and for Intel," he says.

At least two Intel technologies in the development pipeline won't see daylight until Microsoft ships its next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn and expected in 2006. According to Otellini, Intel's LaGrande Technology and Vanderpool Technology, which can deliver more secure computing and allow systems to run multiple computing environments at once, won't appear until Longhorn ships.

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