Smaller, faster, cleaner and more powerful processors

Smaller, faster, cleaner and more powerful processors

Technology spotlight

Continual advances in processor technology have enabled server manufacturers to generate ever faster, more powerful, smaller and less power hungry offerings to cater for a demanding and dynamic IT market.

By any standard the engineering feats behind these advances are remarkable and even more so considering the pace at which they are achieved. And as the technology continues to dutifully follow Moore's Law, SMBs are increasingly able to take advantage of this trend and offer services previously restricted to the enterprise realm.

Chipmaker, Intel, has been at the leading edge of this progress and its 'tick-tock' development model shows no signs of abating.

"Intel has put in place a structure of development that is really based on Moore's Law of being able to double the transistor count every 18 months," Intel channel platform manager, Kamil Gurgen, said. "Every two years we will look at developing a new architecture and shrink that down into another version in two years and come out with another architecture two years after that." At present Intel is on the way to shrinking the 45nm processor known as the Penryn family. In the server space dual- and quadcore Penryn processors come under the Xeon processor brand name.

This family is indicative of processor advances; it dropped the size down from 65nm while almost doubling the density and the number of transistors (more than 400 million for dual-core processors and more than 800 million for quad-core), enlarged the L2 cache by up to 50 per cent, and improved multimedia applications through Streaming SIMD Extensions 4 (SSE4) instructions - all at the same or lower power as previous processors.

It also incorporates a hafnium-based High-k dielectric - a material with a high dielectric constant that is replacing silicon dioxide in the transistors and enabling further miniaturisation.

"Silicon dioxide transistors were not allowing sufficient flow; we were getting leakage and certain thermal considerations," Gurgen said. "But with High-k we are getting 20 per cent increase in performance, we are getting substantial throughput and all these benefits in not only the gigahertz but also the electron fl ow gives us the incremental hit in thermal considerations in the system itself.

"Looking forward to next year we will be coming out with the Nehalem processors which are a brand new architecture. That will have a laundry list of new technologies. We've integrated memory controllers, new interconnects and cache on the systems. And also memory bandwidth as it relates to the server."

In the server space these kinds of developments are enabling consolidation and also giving SMBs the chance to take on previously out-of-reach enterprise level servers to provide more advanced IT services like virtual desktop infrastructure and memory-heavy database driven websites.

"You can consolidate more of your resources on less servers and virtualisation kicks in from there," Gurgen said. "The days of buying a desktop computer and trying to run your own server are pretty much gone. The affordability of simple servers is just so much easier now."

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