As part of its "move beyond megahertz," Intel Corp. last week unveiled a technology that could have computers seeing double. Called hyperthreading, the architectural enhancement can fool applications into treating one CPU as if it were two, Intel said at the chip makers Developer Forum here. By simply using existing multiprocessor applications, Intel said, users could see a 30 percent increase in CPU performance.
Hyperthreading is being added to the Xeon architecture that allows a single processor to handle two separate code streams, or threads, concurrently. In effect, it creates two logical processors inside a single physical processor. The logical processors share the core physical resources of the chip, such as the execution engine, caches and the system bus interface, but each logical processor can be directed to execute a specific thread independently.
Hyperthreading could be particularly useful in Web servers, improving the overall number of Web transactions and allowing more users to access the Internet, said Intel officials.
The technology will first appear in a Xeon processor thats designed for servers and workstations and due next year, Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, said during the conference. But the chip maker eventually wants to move the technology onto the desktop as well.
Representatives of two high-tech companies said the technology sounds promising, but theyre concerned about cost and said theyre unlikely to use it until Intel migrates it from the companys high-end Xeon processors to its less expensive mainstream chips.
"I dont know very many Web hosting companies that actually use the Xeon processors for their servers. Its too expensive," said Phil Senff, director of Internet services for iBiz Technology Corp., in Phoenix. "If they brought it down to the Pentium III and Pentium 4 processors, then it would be something that would definitely be advantageous." iBiz makes custom Intel-based servers and manages Web hosting and co-location server facilities.
A spokesman for Internet search engine company Google Inc. said he expects Intel to charge a premium on chips using the technology. "Weve been briefed by Intel about hyperthreading technology, and it could be a useful addition to our search technology application," said David Krane, whose Mountain View, Calif., company manages more than 8,000 servers. "However, we will have to evaluate the price-per-performance benefit."
While its unclear whether Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., will charge any premium for the new technology, analysts said hyperthreading holds great promise for squeezing more power from existing processors. "It is a reasonably significant change in the architecture in that you have very few processor systems that really utilize resources effectively," said Kevin Krewell, an analyst with Cahners MicroDesign Resources, in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Hyperthreading might create licensing problems because applications may view one processor as being two, said John Enck, a Gartner Inc. analyst, in Fort Collins, Colo.