Intel will look to a multicore future during the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco next week as it tries to leave behind a tumultuous year plagued by product delays and road map revisions.
The company is expected to provide more information about its plans to introduce multicore processors across its product lines by the end of 2005. The multicore concept involves placing two separate processing engines on the same silicon chip.
Several other chipmakers have already introduced dual-core chips or revealed plans to build these chips as thermal problems have forced the chip industry to investigate new methods of improving performance that don't involve faster clock speeds. On Tuesday, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) demonstrated a dual-core Opteron server processor that is scheduled to arrive in the middle of 2005.
Intel canceled two future processor cores in May without providing any details about what would replace Tejas and Jayhawk, the code names for the planned successors to the Pentium 4 and Xeon DP processors. The company didn't comment on what prompted the cancelations, saying only that it had realized it could bring multicore processors to market faster than anticipated.
Analysts believed that Intel's NetBurst architecture for the Pentium 4 and Xeon relied too heavily on raw clock speed to improve performance amid the heat dissipation problems that have accompanied the arrival of the 90-nanometer process generation.
The newest Pentium 4 chip based on the Prescott core consumes as much as 115 watts under maximum operating conditions in order to drive the clock speed of the Pentium 4 toward the 4GHz mark. This is simply too much power to run through a chip that is more susceptible to leakage problems because of the ever-smaller structures created with new process technologies, analysts felt.
A dual-core or multicore processor allows chipmakers to run those individual cores at slower speeds while still improving performance. Intel laid the groundwork for its multicore processors with hyperthreading, a software technology that makes a single-core processor appear to be two processors to a PC or server's operating system.
It's still unclear whether Intel will disclose any architectural details of the forthcoming chips, or even their code names. Intel's Frank Spindler, vice president of the company's Corporate Technology Group, declined to comment on the specifics behind Intel's multicore plans during an IDF preview conference call, but promised that more information would be revealed next week.
Intel does plan to demonstrate a dual-core processor during one of the keynote addresses, Spindler said. However, he wouldn't say what type of system the company planned to show attendees.
"They have to talk about dual-core. That's the question du jour at this conference," said Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report. The conference attendees that build products based on Intel's technology will want to hear more about the dual-core chips to start working on their own products for next year, he said.
However, how much Intel actually says about its dual-core technology is questionable, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64. With over a year until the products are expected, Intel might choose to reveal a few tidbits of information at this conference and save the meatier disclosures for next year's Spring IDF in February, he said.
Sources have already indicated that the first dual-core Pentium 4 and Xeon chips will keep the NetBurst architecture for the first iteration of the chips. After that, Intel is eventually expected to move to a more power-friendly architecture based on Banias, the architecture behind the Pentium M notebook chip.
On the enterprise server side, Intel has already disclosed its plans for a dual-core Itanium 2 processor code-named Montecito and a dual-core Xeon MP chip called Tulsa, both of which are scheduled to arrive in 2005.
The other major topic on attendees' minds is the uncharacteristic string of product delays and manufacturing glitches that have affected Intel this year. Flaws cropped up in both chipset technologies the company introduced this year, and it said it would delay its first LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) chip for digital televisions as well as the 4GHz version of the Pentium 4. The various problems prompted a strongly worded e-mail to employees from Intel Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett in July.
Many of the conference attendees plan products based on Intel's launch schedules, and there is a sense that Intel is about to become a lot more conservative when setting expectations for the arrival of new technologies, said Richard Doherty, research director at The Envisioneering Group. These hardware and software developers need to make their own plans based on Intel's delivery schedule, and delays at Intel can have a ripple effect through the industry, he said.
Amid all the flashy videos and slick demonstrations that characterize IDF, attendees need to be reassured that the problems Intel faced this year are not going to resurface in the future, Doherty said.
"The key concern is, 'Great, dazzle us, but deliver as well or I can't be sent here next year,' " Doherty said.
Intel President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini will open the show on Tuesday with his keynote address. He plans to discuss how multicore technology will improve the digital home and the enterprise and talk about Intel's investment in Wimax, a wireless broadband Internet technology that can deliver signals over as much as 30 miles (48.3 kilometers).