Intel Brings Virtualization to Desktop PCs

Intel begins shipping a pair of Pentium 4 chips equipped with the hardware bits designed to bring virtualization to a wide range of desktop PCs.

Virtualization technology has begun its arrival on the desktop.

Intel Corp. on Monday began offering desktop PC processors with virtualization, a technology that can partition a computer to run multiple different types of software simultaneously.

The Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker sees offering features such as its Virtualization Technology, in addition to making the move to dual-core processors, as a new way of driving greater PC and server performance.

Therefore the chipmaker, which switched from driving up clock speeds and selling individual chips to building out complete hardware platforms its customers can base their computers on, has begun spreading dual-core chips, virtualization and other features out across its product lines.

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Virtualization is "part of our drive towards adding capabilities to the platforms versus offering broad [processor] gigahertz," said Chad Taggard, director of advanced technologies marketing, for Intel.

"Instead of going up in gigahertz, we can add capabilities that are favorable to end-users. So thats what were doing here."

Intel will offer Virtualization Technology in only two of its Pentium 4 chips at first. The chipmaker hopes the maneuver will begin spreading its Virtualization Technology in desktops. Although it doesnt expect it to be adopted more widely in desktops until 2006, Taggard said.

"Weve got lots of different usage [models in mind] that will help virtualization on the client become very mainstream over the next several years," he said. "We think by 2007 or 2008 this will be a mainstream capability."

Although Intels two virtualization-equipped chips, the single core 3.6GHz Pentium 4 662 and 3.8GHz Pentium 4 672, are readily available, it may take some more time for brand-name PC makers to test out the technology.

Lenovo Group LTD, for one, will offer PCs with the new chips to customers interested in piloting the systems, Intel said. Several other major PC makers are expected to step on board in the first quarter of 2006.

Thus Intel believes Presler, a forthcoming update to its dual-core Pentium D desktop processor line, will do the most to usher in Virtualization Technology on the desktop.

The first Presler chips, which are all based on a new 65-nanometer manufacturing process, are due in the first quarter, Intel has said. Many expect them in January.

"With the Presler launch in Q1, [Virtualization Technology] will go everywhere that you can think of," Taggard said.

Over the course of 2006, Intels Virtualization Technology will also find its way into servers based on its Xeon and Itanium server chips, as well as its notebook platforms.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intels main competitor, will also roll out chips equipped with built-in virtualization capabilities in 2006. The two companys technologies—AMDs is dubbed Pacifica—are similar, they have admitted.

Pacifica equipped AMD Opteron server chips and Athlon 64 chips, which it offers for desktops and notebooks, will come out in the first half of 2006, AMD has said.

Virtualization has been widely accepted in servers, thus far. However, despite being new to PCs, Intel believes there are a number of potential applications for the technology, particularly when it comes to boosting manageability for corporate PCs and security for consumers.

Companies could use it to create a secure partition, which runs their corporate software in isolation from other applications or a management partition which could house software for PC backup and recovery.

Lenovo has demonstrated a PC running a partition that can house security and backup utilities, for example.

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For consumers, a partition could be used for remote tech support, safer Web browsing (the partition and all the potentially harmful software associated with it would disappear when the browser closed), as well as for home entertainment, Intel believes.

Under Intels forthcoming Viiv brand, a PC might put a personal video recorder in its own partition and operate the recorder while the rest of the machine appeared to be shut down.

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As a result, Intel has been working with software vendors to help foster development of consumer applications, Taggard said.

Because the same Virtualization hardware hooks will be offered across Intels entire different chip families, software developers can reuse some of the work they might have done in servers, he added.

However, Taggard declined to share the names of any of those software makers or details about their plans.

Still, Intel has been working with virtualization software companies, including EMC Corp.s VMware division, Microsoft Corp. and XenSource Inc. Those companies, Intel said, will support its Virtualization Technology on PCs and servers.

Meanwhile, because AMDs Pacifica and Intels Virtualization Technology are similar, the chipmakers have said that application software makers can also write one application that works with the virtualization hardware built into both chips.

Some of Intels other platform technologies include I/O Acceleration Technology—for faster data flow between server applications and the network—and Active Management Technology, which enables users to remotely monitor and fix problems.

Intels security technology, code-named LaGrande, is also scheduled to begin appearing in Intel chips in 2006.

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