Chip Designs Promise More Bang for the Buck

With PC processors already running as fast as 2GHz today, the world's leading chip makers this week will focus their attention on ways to deliver even more performance without running up the clock.

With PC processors already running as fast as 2GHz today, the worlds leading chip makers this week will focus their attention on ways to deliver even more performance without running up the clock.

Technologies such as Intel Corp.s hyperthreading that advance chip performance beyond just speed will be among those featured at the annual Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, Calif.

Chip makers at the conference will debate the importance of not only creating faster chips but less costly ones as well. Companies will offer the first public disclosures of more than 30 new microprocessors, network processors and digital-signal processors.

Intels hyperthreading will be a key technology that will be integrated into upcoming Xeon processors from the Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker.

Hyperthreading is designed to work with applications configured to use multiple processors. In essence, the chip fools the application into seeing one Xeon chip as two "virtual chips." The result is that applications will send more than one data stream to a single chip, essentially tapping processing power on the chip that otherwise would have gone underused.

The new direction is welcome news to system managers. Mahlon Stacy, system administrator for Mayo Foundation Medical Science, in Rochester, Minn., said speed is only one gauge of a chips value. "Clock speed offers a suggestion of performance, [but] its by no means the only thing you look at," Stacy said. "Its really only a clue as to what the chip can do."

In addition, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., will detail its plans to extend the X86 architecture, which serves as the basis for PC processors such as its own Athlon and Intels Pentium 4, from todays 32-bit designs into the high-performance 64-bit world.

Known by the code name Hammer, the new chips will be able to handle bigger chunks of data per clock cycle than current PC processors.

By extending the X86 architecture into 64-bit designs, AMD officials said the chip will be fully backward-compatible with existing 32-bit applications, giving users far greater flexibility in the applications they can run on the chip. In addition, AMD executives hope that by using the X86 design, rather than creating a new design like Intels Itanium, they will save on development and manufacturing costs, enabling them to price their product much lower than Intel.

In fact, reducing manufacturing costs is a major concern among all chip makers, said Kevin Krewell, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat/MDR, of San Jose, which hosts the Microprocessor Forum.

Two companies that will emphasize that point of view are Transmeta Corp., of Santa Clara, designer of the low-power Crusoe processor targeted at mobile products and high-density servers, and Centaur Technology, a subsidiary of Via Technologies Inc., of Austin, Texas, which makes the low-cost C3 processor sold mostly in overseas markets.

Transmeta, whose introduction of the low-power Crusoe last year sparked other chip makers to release more energy-efficient chips, this week will detail an upcoming processor that will consume even less power. The new design will reportedly offer improved performance at lower power by integrating features normally found on chip sets into the processor package.

Intel and IBM will also present new energy-efficient chip designs targeted at mobile devices, where battery life is a key consideration. The companies will present separate chip designs that feature a similar power-saving technique, which involves shutting off power to parts of the processors when not in use. Intel will use such a feature in its Banias mobile PC chip, due in 2003. IBM, meanwhile, will integrate the technology in a PowerPC chip, due next year, that is being targeted for use in personal digital assistants and other small consumer electronic devices.