Intel Cuts the Power

 
 
By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-08-23
 
 
 

Intel Cuts the Power


SAN FRANCISCO—Intel Corp. is powering down its entire processor line.

The chip maker, as previously reported, aims to drive down the power consumption of desktops, notebooks and servers that use its processors significantly over the next several years by enacting a redesign of its chips architecture or underlying circuitry, Paul Otellini, its CEO, said during a keynote that kicked off the companys three-day fall Intel Developer Forum on Tuesday here.

Intels new chip architecture, which will debut in 2006, focuses on delivering multicore processors that offer higher performance per clock cycle than Intels current chips, but at the same time consume less power. As expected, the new architecture will aim to take the best of Intels current Pentium M chip and add features from its Pentium 4 and Xeon lines, such as 64-bit addressing.

The new architecture represents a major shift for the company, whose desktop and server chips have, until this year, focused on achieving high clock speeds in single-core configurations. High-speed, single-core chips, however, pay the price of consuming relatively large amounts of power, making them harder to cool in servers, for example.

As Intel and AMD begin making multicore moves, eWEEK Labs takes a close look at the technology. Click here to read what they think of multicore processing.

Thus, "were changing our engineering focus from clock speed to multicore processors. Multicore allows us to continue performance without the penalties we saw [with the] gigahertz approach," Otellini said.

Going forward, "we will create and build products and platforms that deliver new levels of performance and energy efficiency and have communications technology built into them," he said.

Reducing power consumption will make for sleeker desktops and thinner, lighter notebooks that offer longer battery life, as well as, in a nod to business, help cut down consumption of electricity for firms that operate large numbers of computer servers, Otellini said.

Intel will get started with dual-core processors based on the new architecture.

The chips, due in the second half of 2006, are code-named Merom, Conroe and Woodcrest.

Designed for notebooks, desktops and servers, respectively, the chips will consume up to about 5 watts, 65 watts and 80 watts, thus helping to reduce the amount of power notebooks, desktops and servers each use, he said.

Intel will follow Woodcrest with a chip called Whitefield. Whitefield, due in 2007, will incorporate four processor cores.

Silicon from at least some of the chips is already working. Otellini ran his keynote on a Merom-based notebook, he said.

Collectively, Merom, Conroe and Woodcrest will lower power consumption of their respective platforms by about 30 watts each, Otellini said. At the same time, they will offer performance-per-watt increases of three times, five times and three times over their respective predecessors.

Next Page: Other benefits of power-efficient chips.

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More power-efficient chips can offer other benefits as well. Intel estimates that a drop in power consumption could cut the bill to power computers. Otellini said, based on a 30-watt drop in average power management, the new computers could cost $1 billion less to power per year, per 100 million units. Gartner has forecast that the PC market will total over 200 million units in 2005.

Meanwhile, continuing its previous course, Intel could possibly have gone in the other direction, driving up the costs of electricity for businesses.

"Multicore CPUs have real promise of changing performance per watt, because you can add cores, without adding much power consumption," said Urs Holzle, a Google fellow, who joined Otellini on stage for a time during the keynote.

Instead, dual-core chips are capable of doing more work for the same amount of electricity.

Intel will continue to cut down on power in 2006 and beyond. Its working on an effort to build even lower-power chips, which will help standard PC processors fit into smaller forms, such as palmtop machines that run full versions of Microsoft Corp.s Windows operating system. Those products will start to come out in 2006 as well.

Even lower-power chips, including a version of Intels notebook chips that consumes 1 watt or less and allows for even smaller computing machines, will come out later in this decade, Otellini said.

Intel didnt always look so closely at power. The Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker in 2000 introduced the speed-fueled Pentium 4 chip, a single-core chip that runs at high clock speeds. Speedier processors, however, generally consume more power, and some Pentium 4s have a TDP—an Intel term that refers to how much heat a chip has to dissipate—that averages 100 watts or more, requiring a fair amount of cooling.

But Otellini said the company began shifting its focus toward performance per watt about four years ago. It got the effort rolling with its Pentium M, which made its debut in 2003, and then shifted its focus to multicore processors, which came out earlier this year.

It will focus most of its efforts, going forward, on multicores and power efficiency. It will offer six new dual-core processors in 2006 and is working on 10 more quad-core or higher multicore chips for later in the decade, Otellini said.

Otellini also demonstrated a WiMax wireless link to India and discussed the companys Digital Home PC platform for 2006 in his keynote.

Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify the power usage of the new processors.

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