SAN FRANCISCO—Intel says that, no matter how you slice it, four processors cores are better than two.
Intel executives laid out their strategy for migrating from dual-core chips containing two processor cores to quad-core chips containing four at the Intel Developer Forum here Sept. 26.
The chip maker promises that the chips, which will start to arrive in November, will deliver performance increases of up to 50 percent for servers and 70 percent for desktops while using about the same amount of power as the chips they will replace in high-end desktops and servers. Despite the gains, some, namely Intels main rival Advanced Micro Devices, have criticized the companys approach to building its first quad chips. Intel will manufacture them by combining a pair of dual-core chips in a special package.
The approach "is focused on delivering a result in a timely way—timely is giving you a computer that you can use," said Steve Smith, director of desktop operations at Intel, in an interview here with eWEEK. "For me as a user, what I care about is, wow, I just got a 70-percent increase in performance."
Combining two dual-core chips in a package will allow Intel to deliver quad chips more quickly and at higher yields than if it were to do a so-called monolithic quad core that incorporated all four cores in a single piece of silicon, Smith said. The chip maker sees lower production costs initially—processor yields are directly influenced by the size of a chip, with smaller ones being less likely to have factory defects—and therefore is able to produce greater numbers of the chips.
"Well be able to ramp [manufacturing volume] of our quad-core in a reasonably fast way," Smith said.
AMD officials, however, said that the approach had flaws and that AMDs monolithic chip design was superior.
In a recent interview with eWEEK, Patrick Patla, director for AMDs Server and Workstation Business, in Austin, Texas, painted the quad-AMD chip, due in the first half of 2007, as more efficient in the way it uses onboard memory called cache. He called Intels chip a "Franken-quad," referring to the re-animated monster, made out of multiple body parts.
"Theres no efficiencies brought by this solution … [of] putting multiple processors on one bus," he said. "Our native design actually offloads and takes latency out."
Smith rattled off several advantages to the packaging approach, including lower costs and time to market, while reinforcing the ability to deliver large performance gains and still fit into current power envelopes.
Combining a pair of smaller, dual-core chips allows Intel to get 20 percent more quad core chips per wafer—the 12-inch silicon disc that is the base of chip production—and thus 10 percent lower costs to produce the chips.
Meanwhile, its a proven approach given that Intel has been producing multichip, dual-core processors for some time, he said. The chip makers dual-core Pentium D 800 series, for one, combines two single core Pentium 4 chips.
Starting in November, Intel will offer the 2.66GHz Core 2 Extreme quad core QX6700 for high-end desktop PCs. It believes that game enthusiasts will be the main purchaser of the chip, which will use about 130 watts of power.
But it has big expectations for its quad-core Xeon 5300 for severs and workstations, which will also come out in November.
Intel will offer several Xeon 5300 models running at speeds up to 2.66GHz for dual-socket or two-processor servers, Smith said.
For servers, "Our mindset is to rapidly fill out [our] product line with quad-core" chips, he said.
The chips, which will ultimately include a version that consumes 50 watts of power, one that consumes 80 watts and one that consumes about 100 watts, will rapidly increase in volume, although they wont do so as quickly as Intels Xeon 5100 chip, which the company says was its most rapid server chip introduction thus far.
Intel will also release additional quad-core chips, starting in the first half of 2007. One, a Core 2 Quad chip, will be for mainstream desktops. That chip will run at 2.4GHz. It will also offer a quad-core Xeon 3200 chip for single-processor servers.
It will use the packaging approach to create Tigerton, a quad-core chip designed for multiprocessor or four socket servers, that is also due in 2007.
Ultimately, as it moves to new manufacturing technology, Intel could produce a monolithic quad-core chip, Smith said. However, he declined to give specific details on when it might do so.
Still, "I can see beyond four cores, especially in the server space, where [machines] can use the performance," Smith said. "Its harder to see on the client. Well look at each product" individually.
When it comes to the next step, eight cores may not be the next step, Smith said. Instead, any multiple of two is possible, he said.