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Future Intel chips could signal shift to common design

Future Intel chips could signal shift to common design

Intel last week confirmed the existence of two future processor code names that are expected to usher in a new power-friendly design strategy.

Intel has confirmed the existence of two future processor designs that are expected to begin the company's shift away from separate architectures for desktop, server, and mobile chips toward a common architecture around 2007.

The vendor's president and chief operating officer, Paul Otellini, unveiled an updated processor road map that included Merom, a future dual-core notebook processor; Conroe, a future dual-core desktop processor; and Woodcrest, a future dual-core server processor for two-chip servers. Although Otellini did not provide details about those chips, sources familiar with Intel's plans said last year and again this week that these chips will share many of the same architectural features in a design inspired by the current Pentium M processor.

An Intel spokesperson in the company's desktop and mobile groups declined to comment on unannounced products. But its executives have shown an increasing willingness of late to comment on the gradual introduction of mobile technologies into desktop and server chips.

Over the next six to 18 months, Intel's desktop and server chip designers planned to borrow techniques from the mobile group to improve performance per watt of power consumption in desktops and servers, vice-president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, Abhi Talwalkar, said.

This would have an impact on IT budgets by making it easier to cool PCs and servers as well as reducing management costs with a common software image that could be used for either desktops or notebooks, he said.

Vice-president and general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group, Don McDonald, said earlier this year that his newly formed organisation had been given the freedom to use technology from any part of Intel to build chips for home-entertainment products such as set-top boxes and media-oriented PCs.

Mobile technologies found in the Pentium M design were high on his list.

Conroe, Merom, and Woodcrest are expected to use many of the power-efficient characteristics of the Pentium M processor. Intel's power-hungry Netburst architecture is still the foundation for current Pentium 4 and Xeon chips but appears to be on its way out with the introduction of Conroe and Woodcrest.

For the past five years, Intel has improved chip performance by increasing the clock speed of its Pentium 4 processors. This has the unfortunate effect of increasing the power consumption of those chips, and current leakage problems brought on by the move to smaller transistors caused widespread concern about the heat given off by these fast chips.

The Pentium 4's Netburst architecture was designed to let Intel's desktop and mobile chips reach higher clock speeds, in line with Intel's marketing efforts at the time, which were largely focused on pushing clock speed as the most easily understood indicator of processor performance. However, that thinking shifted with the successful introduction of the Pentium M notebook processor in 2003.

The Pentium M runs at slower clock speeds than Pentium 4 processors but is designed to do more work per clock cycle.

The combination of performance and power efficiency in the Pentium M's design also made it ideal for the new dual-core and multicore processor designs under development at Intel, editor-in-chief of The Microprocessor Report, Kevin Krewell, said.

"The Netburst architecture has completely hit a wall here," he said. "With a focus on reducing power per core, you start to pave the way for four cores per processor."

Conroe and Merom were scheduled to be released toward the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007, while Woodcrest is slated for 2007, Otellini said.


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