With Intel Corp.s forthcoming Banias processor, the chip giant might be taking a step back to go forward.
No one outside of Intel knows for sure how fast Banias is, but its widely believed to be running at sub-2GHz speeds (likely in the 1.4GHz-to-1.6GHz area). Its also rumored that Banias, expected in the first half of next year, is based on the Pentium III core. The PIII was introduced in early 1999, making Banias an odd fellow, indeed.
Intel may be on to something, however. Engineers have been working on optimizing the Banias chip set for the mobile environment, making it more powerful than previous mobile processors while increasing battery life. True to Intels mission, Banias will include a highly integrated supporting chip set and feature wireless networking.
Mobile processors specifically designed for notebooks are a fairly new technology. (See Peter Coffees story for more on the evolution from “trickle-down” chips.) In the past, most hardware vendors simply designed notebooks around desktop processors, adding heat shields and ventilation to ensure that the chips didnt burn through the casing.
In fact, some newer notebooks still use desktop processors, a design choice that led to a class action suit against Toshiba America Inc. earlier this year. The suit claimed, among other things, that the desktop processor in the Satellite 5005 produced so much heat that it forced the chip set to scale back performance (and thus run cooler). Toshibas other notebooks use mobile processors, and the Satellite 5005 has been replaced by the Satellite 1905 and 1955, both of which are based on the Pentium 4-Processor-M.
The current line of mobile processors from Intel consists of the Pentium III Processor-M and the Pentium 4 Processor-M. These processors are designed for low- and ultra-low- voltage configurations using Intels Enhanced SpeedStep technology, which throttles performance depending on usage and power management profiles.
(For an idea of how much SpeedStep scales back performance, see the chart “Maximum performance vs. battery optimized mode” at Intels Web site, www.intel.com/support/processors/mobile/pentiumiii/ss.htm.)
Banias is in many ways simply an enhancement of the PIII-M—including smaller packaging and highly improved heat dissipation (through “thermals”). However, Banias may also include an extraordinarily large multibank cache, and Intel is improving the branch prediction capabilities in the micro-architecture of the chip.
All told, Banias should run faster and use less power than the PIII. In addition, Banias architecture may give developers the ability to optimize applications for the new mobile architecture. While such optimization probably will not be implemented on general-purpose notebooks, it may give new devices, such as the Tablet PC, better battery life.
If these were the only things that Intel were doing with Banias, there would be no compelling reason to opt for the processor over the PIII-M or Transmeta Corp.s Crusoe.
Realizing this, Intel has decided to up the ante by building into Banias 802.11a and 802.11b wireless support. The wireless chip set, code-named Calexico, will be supplemented with integrated Ethernet support and additional security enhancements, possibly including Secure Sockets Layer acceleration and the ability to handle certificates and tokens.
eWeek Labs Director John Taschek can be reached at [email protected]
- Advanced branch prediction Predicts which operations a program is likely to request based on past behavior
- Micro-Op Fusion Merges operations that are ready to execute at the same time
- Power-optimized processor system bus Provides power only where and when needed
- Dedicated stack manager Allows the processor to execute program instructions without interruption
- Integrated dual-band wireless Offers 802.11a and 802.11b wireless connectivity
- ProSet utility software Enables Banias users to move from wired to wireless LAN connections without having to shut down applications
- New Gigabit Ethernet controller Provides automatic power-down features, is pin-compatible with Intel¹s latest 10/100M-bps LAN motherboard
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