Intel previews new generation computer processors

Intel previews new generation computer processors

San Francisco: Intel gave the first ever public demonstration of a new generation of computer processors that significantly increase performance without consuming more power on 18September.

The company's chief executive, Paul S Otellini, told developers at its semiannual technology conference that Intel expected to finish the new family of chips in the second half of 2008, in keeping with its promise of a new chip architecture every other year. The new family of chips, code-named Nehalem, will use as many as eight processing cores and will offer better graphics and memory-control processing.

Intel had been late to respond to technological challenges in energy efficiency and heat consumption, and it has spent the better part of two years racing to catch up with its smaller but feisty competitor, Advanced Micro Devices.

A year ago, Intel announced a painful corporate overhaul, including a round of cost-cutting that reduced the work force by 10% and trimmed $5 billion (Rs20,000 crore) in expenses. Since then, the company has begun to regain lost market share, and last week raised its sales forecast for this quarter.

Tick tock strategy

As part of corporate revamping, Intel executives last year outlined what they called a tick-tock strategy, referring to the development of a new chip architecture every other year and to a new manufacturing technology in the alternate years. Otellini said the strategy would accelerate the pace of innovation.

The manufacturing-technology innovation, a new silicon technology component, is almost ready. Intel's Penryn family of processors, to be introduced on 12November, will be the industry's first high-volume 45-nanometer processors. (The current standard is 65 nanometers.)

Otellini said the company planned to introduce 15 new 45-nanometer processors by the end of the year and 20 more in the first quarter of 2008. AMD has said it will move to 45-nanometer technology in mid-2008.

"We expect our Penryn processors to provide up to a 20% performance increase while improving energy efficiency," Otellini said.

He said that 32-nanometer technology, which is on track to begin production in 2009, would offer even greater performance. The 32-nanometer chips use transistors so small that more than 4 million of them could fit on the head of a pin.

Smaller is better, smaller is cheaper

The company disclosed plans for a new graphics-oriented product, called Larrabee, which will compete with products from Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia and Advanced Micro's ATI graphics unit. Larrabee will include 12 cores, or computing brains.

AMD unveiled its own strategic change: a desktop chip with three cores, unusual in an industry that tends to grow in even numbers, routinely doubling performance. The announcement came as a surprise to analysts, as the company had promoted the advantages of four processors only last week.

AMD executives, referring to a recent survey by Mercury Research, said that quad-core processors accounted for only 2 percent of all desktop computer systems, suggesting that they had been slower to catch on than expected.

It is hoping that its new three-core chip, called Phenom, will appeal to midrange customers who are looking for better performance than dual-core systems can provide, but do not see the need for quad-core systems. A corporate vice president, Robert Brewer, predicted that "it's naturally going to resonate with customers," who he said would appreciate having another choice.

But Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64, a consulting firm in Saratoga, Calif., said the triple-core chip could prove confusing to customers. It is due in the first quarter of 2008, the quarter after Advanced Micro is scheduled to release its quad-core chip. In some cases, the triple-core chip may actually perform faster than a quad core.