Intel has confirmed its near-term plans for its desktop processors before it reaches the multicore era. The company will not release a 4GHz version of its flagship Pentium 4 product, having decided instead to realign its engineers around the company's new design priorities, according to an Intel spokesperson said.
The past year has been marked by tectonic shifts in Intel's design and marketing philosophies. After years of promoting clock speed as the most important indicator of processor performance, Intel now believes that introducing multicore products and new silicon features, collectively known as the "Ts", are the best ways to improve processor performance.
The company has made the tough decision to break Intel president and chief operating officer Paul Otellini's promise to release a 4GHz Pentium 4 product, and will move engineers working on that product to other projects, an Intel spokesperson, Bill Kircos, said.
Earlier this year, Intel delayed the arrival of the 4GHz Pentium 4 until the first quarter of 2005.
At a financial analyst meeting in November 2003, Otellini promised to have that product out by the end of 2004, but much has changed at Intel since that meeting.
Since then, Intel confirmed it would introduce a faster frontside bus in its Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chips, which would top out at 3.73GHz, as expected. Starting next year, the company would add an additional 1MB of cache memory to its Pentium 4 chips based on the Prescott 90 nanometre core, and cap the clock speed of that product at 3.8GHz, Kircos said.
Intel has re-evaluated many product decisions this year after chief executive officer, Craig Barrett, wrote a memo chastising the company for its string of product delays and manufacturing glitches earlier this year. The memo called for Intel to focus on products that could be delivered on time and without incident, and the decision to forgo the 4GHz chip seems linked to that emerging mindset.
It was simply easier to increase performance by adding cache memory to a processor, director of platform marketing at Intel, Bill Kirby, said. Cache memory stores frequently accessed data close to the processor where it can be retrieved more quickly than data stored in the main memory.
Industry-wide concerns about the amount of power required to keep highly clocked processors running has caused most chip companies to move away from high clock speed designs. Intel was now focusing on the "platformisation" of its chips, a concept that Otellini touched on during his keynote address at the Fall Intel Developer Forum last month, Kircos said.
There were no technical or thermal limitations that prevented Intel from releasing a 4GHz product, Kirby said. But there were practical limitations, so that to release such a product Intel would have to devote time and energy to tweaking circuit designs and testing those chips. That always took place when a chipmaker validated a higher speed grade, but at a certain point it was no longer worth the effort, he said.
"Performance still matters, and performance on multiple vectors still matters," Kirby said. "The fundamental decision was whether to chase megahertz ... or to bring in other features like cache and multicore."
Those additional vectors include features such as hyperthreading, the software-based technology that Intel has used in its Pentium 4 chips for more than a year to fool a PC's operating system into believing the PC has two processors.
During its usual second-quarter chipset introduction in 2005, Intel would introduce the other platform technologies it had spoken about during the last several IDFs, Kirby said. These included: VT, or Vanderpool Technology, a virtualisation feature; LT, or LaGrande Technology, hardware-based security features; EM64T, Intel's name for its 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set, and AMT, or Active Management Technology, a new feature aimed at making PCs easier to manage.
After that chipset launch, Intel will be ready to introduce its first dual-core desktop chips. Those chips would keep the Netburst architecture in at least the first generation of dual-core products, and probably into the second, Kirby said.
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