Support Lags for New Pentium 4

Hyperthreading to rev chip by 30%.

Intel Corp. is expected to unveil this week a performance-enhancing technology thats due in an upcoming release of its 3GHz Pentium 4. But an apparent lack of necessary support from Microsoft Corp. will mean few early adopters will be able to take advantage of it. (Editors Note: Due to inaccurate information supplied to eWeek from Microsoft, some of the facts in this story are incorrect. Specifically, contrary to this story, Microsofts Windows XP Home Edition does support Intels hyperthreading technology. Click here for an updated, accurate story.)

The Pentium 4 is among products the chip maker will herald this week at its Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif. Attendees will be offered sneak peeks at the Pentium 5; the Itanium 3; and a new mobile chip, code-named Banias.

The Pentium 4 will include hyperthreading capability, which can enhance performance up to 30 percent, sources said. Hyperthreading, introduced in Intels Xeons for workstations and servers this year, enables software to treat one processor as two. As such, two data streams, rather than one, are sent to the chip, enabling the system to tap processing power that would otherwise go unused.

But the technology requires software designed for multiprocessor systems. Currently, most consumer software products, including Windows XP Home Edition, dont support hyperthreading.

Intel has hinted that Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., will issue consumer software to support hyperthreading, but Microsoft officials said last week there are no plans to do so in XP Home Edition.

"There are no plans to support hyperthreading in XP Home Edition," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows XP.

As a result, many game players and computing enthusiasts, who are among the biggest early buyers of Intels fastest chips, probably wont be able to tap the new technology unless they upgrade to Windows XP Professional, which supports dual processors.

"It would be pretty disappointing if Microsoft didnt offer support for hyperthreading on XP Home because I seriously doubt many consumers are going to want to pay more money for XP Pro just to take advantage of hyperthreading," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst for Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif.

However, companies that regularly push the limits of PC performance will likely adopt the new chip, observers say. One such organization is motion picture special effects developer Lucas Digital Ltd.s Industrial Light & Magic division, in San Rafael, Calif.

"The big advantage for us is that the faster our desktop boxes can be, the more iterations of the work we can go through in a shorter amount of time," said Cliff Plumer, ILMs chief technology officer, adding that ILM upgrades its systems about every six months. "A special effect can take weeks or months to produce, so being able to quicken production is a big value."