Multithreading Set for Processors

Intel, IBM and Sun planning to rev the performance of multiple-core chips.

Intel Corp., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. are each looking to incorporate multithreading capabilities into multiple-core processors.

Intel last month confirmed it will put multithreading, which it calls hyperthreading, into a future version of its 64-bit Itanium line of chips. The Santa Clara, Calif., company will have dual-core processing in an Itanium chip code-named Montecito and due in 2005.

Intel officials would not say when the vendor will add hyperthreading to the Itanium, but a source familiar with Intels plans said the company aims to include it in Montecito. Last week, IBM—which has had dual-core processing in its Power4 chip since 2001—and Sun said they plan to add multithreading capabilities to their dual-core chips over the next couple of years.

Most currently available chips can process only a single thread of instructions at once, and a lot of time is spent waiting for memory. With multithreading, if a process is waiting for memory for one thread, the chip can work on another.

"This allows a single processor to do more work," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "Youre able to pack more processing power in a smaller space."

In this way, enterprises can increase the workload of each server, which is key if they are going to be successful in their efforts to pack more processing power into their server farms. It could also mean cost savings to users, who will be able to do more work with fewer servers, Enderle said.

IBM will put the multithreading feature—the ability of a chip to run multiple tasks, or threads, at the same time—on its Power5 server chip, due for release next year, said Mark Papermaster, director of microprocessor design for IBMs Systems Group.

In the Power5, each core will be able to handle two threads simultaneously, a capability that when combined with other performance enhancements in the chip, will boost user performance fourfold, said Papermaster, in Austin, Texas.

Processor Performance Hits the Fast TrackX

Chip makers plan to build multithreading on multiple cores
  • Intel Will release dual-core processing in Montecito chip in 2005
  • IBM Will release multithreading capabilities in its dual-core Power5 next year
  • Sun Will release dual-core UltraSPARC IV later this year, multithreading capabilities in Niagara chip in 2005
He said samples of the Power5, which will run faster than 1.5GHz, are performing well in internal tests. The chip will be important for such jobs as high-transaction applications or heavy data mining tasks, he said. It will also be able to handle single-threaded applications.

At its annual analyst conference in San Francisco last week, Santa Clara-based Sun began rolling out an aggressive road map for its UltraSPARC processors, including its first dual-core chip, the UltraSPARC IV, set for release later this year. In 2005, Sun officials said, the company will roll out a chip—code-named Niagara—that will be built on a 0.09-micron manufacturing process and will feature multithreading capabilities. The goal of Niagaras simple design will be to enable eight cores to run four threads simultaneously, according to Sun.

Multithreading on processors will be a key component of Suns Throughput Computing chip strategy, designed to enhance application performance by maximizing network computing throughput, or the total amount of work done, said the company. The result will be faster application speed and a smaller system footprint, which will mean cost savings, Sun officials said.