IDF: The Calm Before the Storm

Reporter's Notebook: Most of Intel's big announcements won't have an impact until late 2006. In the meantime, we'll see more stopgaps for the desktop.

A lot of virtual ink has been expended over the last few days regarding the latest Intel Developer Forum. Much of it has been focused on Intels next-generation CPU architecture.

What has been swept under the rug, at least when it comes to desktop processors, is the first half of 2006. By the end of this year or a good chunk of next year, hardware OEMs will begin shipping PCs using the next Intel desktop CPU, code-named Cedar Mill.

/zimages/7/28571.gifRead more here about Intels new CPU architecture.

Cedar Mill is essentially a Prescott-based CPU, shrunk down a bit using Intels new 65nm process. Cedar Mill is a single-core processor, and, given Intels push into dual core, youd think the company would be shipping a dual-core CPU, too.

Well, it is, in a sense. Using a bit of engineering sleight of hand, Intel is putting two Cedar Mill dies into a single processor package and calling it a dual-core processor. From the perspective of operating systems and applications, Presler, as the dual die version is called, will indeed be a dual-core, single socket processor.

In fact, this isnt as much of a stretch as one might think. The Pentium D is pretty much two Pentium 4s replicated on a single die. In fact, one Intel marketing person suggested that you could almost take a razor down the center of a Pentium D die and have two working single-core CPUs. He was kidding, but its not far from the truth.

This is all hair-splitting, to some extent. What counts is what the operating system sees, and Windows XP or Linux will see a single socket.

The bigger news will be "Yonah," which will bring dual-core processing to laptops. Some folks are unclear as to why youd need dual core on a laptop, but anyone with a corporate laptop will want one. In many corporate systems, youll see the system tray littered with icons for anti-virus software, VPN programs, and security and messaging apps.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read about Intels moves to save electricity.

An additional CPU will help those users run office apps better—not because Microsoft Office is multithreaded, but because all those other apps are constantly contending for the CPUs attention.

What all this means is that Intel will still be relying heavily on mobile processors to carry the bottom line. Certainly, itll sell a boatload of desktop CPUs, but some percentage of users will play wait-and-see, now that the cats been let out of the bag.

After all, which would you prefer: a system with a 115-watt, heat-generating monster that needs a cooling fan the size of Nebraska, or a 65-watt CPU that performs better and is whisper-quiet?

This puts AMD in something of a bind. Even though AMDs Athlon 64 line has been more efficient than Intels current line, they still run pretty warm. The top of the line Athlon 64 X2 4800 runs at over 100 watts. While thats better than 115, its still a lot of heat. Its going to be interesting to see how AMD responds to Intels efficiency push.

In the long run, we all benefit from more powerful CPUs that generate less heat and use less electricity. As energy costs continue to push upwards, efficiency can only be a good thing.

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