Chip Makers Eye Move to Multicore

The manufacturers are aggressively moving forward with plans to add more cores to their processors as a way of improving performance without having to bump up the frequency.

Chip makers are aggressively moving forward with plans to add more cores to their processors as a way of improving performance without having to bump up the frequency.

Sun Microsystems Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., next month will roll out the first of its servers based on its new UltraSPARC T1—formerly code-named Niagara—which holds as many as eight cores. In addition, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. this month unveiled road map details for its Opteron server processors as it tries to maintain what officials say is a technological advantage over rival Intel Corp.

The road map includes releasing a quad-core version based on AMDs current Opteron chip design in 2007, with the cores connected together via an upgraded version of AMDs HyperTransport interconnect technology, and supporting a new Level 3 cache. Soon after that, another four-core chip based on a new architecture will be released, officials said.

"Its not about frequency," Marty Seyer, AMDs general manager for commercial business and performance computing, told financial analysts this month. "Its about multicore. Its about how efficiently multicore has been implemented."

Multiple cores, combined with other technology, such as virtualization and power management, enable chip makers to improve processor performance while reducing power consumption and heat generation, key issues in todays data centers. For example, Suns UltraSPARC T1 will consume about 70 watts, less than many single-core chips from competitors.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc., said the focus on innovation will now be on multicore chips, with vendors taking several approaches. AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Intel, of Santa Clara, are taking deliberate steps up the chain, starting with two cores this year and going to four cores in 2007.

/zimages/4/28571.gifAMD shoots for quad cores. Click here to read more.

"Azul [Systems Inc.] and Sun are taking another approach, with many more cores and smaller cores," said Haff in Nashua, N.H.

Charles Orndorff, vice president of infrastructure services for Crossmark Holdings Inc., said the move to quad-core chips by both AMD and Intel—which is scheduled to release "Tigerton," its first four-core Xeon processor, in 2007—will benefit enterprises by adding performance without forcing them to add more data center real estate.

The key, Orndorff said, will be how software makers license their products for systems with four or more cores. Currently, most have followed Microsoft Corp.s lead with dual-core systems, licensing the software on a per-socket—rather than per-core—basis. Orndorff, whose company runs Hewlett-Packard Co. servers powered by both AMD and Intel chips, said he would expect that Microsoft and others will amend that as the number of cores grows.

"Still, in terms of [growing chip performance] in that small a footprint, if you take the Microsoft licensing out of it, its very attractive," Orndorff said.

Crossmark, of Plano, Texas, recently brought in ProLiant servers powered by dual-core Opterons to run a SQL Server database, and Orndorff said he expects to evaluate dual-core Xeon systems after Intel releases its "Dempsey" chip early next year.

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