Despite the hubbub surrounding 64-bit computing in the market, Intel Corp. will assert that the world still operates on 32-bit cores with the Monday launch of its code-name “Prescott” processor. OEMs on Thursday reported that Intel the next-generation Pentium architecture will be pitched as a 32-bit chip and not a bridge to 64-bit computing.
Intels next-generation processor will eventually replace the “Northwood” Pentium 4 found in todays PCs. The Prescott family, still branded as a Pentium 4, is primarily being viewed by Intel as just another step forward along the Pentium 4 roadmap, albeit with a larger 1MB cache that will improve the performance of many applications.
More intriguing, however, were the online reports circulating in the industry that the 32-bit chip will hide additional 64-bit capabilities. Insiders speculated that Intel would develop a 64-bit core to compete with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron and Athlon 64 processors, which use an X86-64 instruction set that AMD executives have described as an “extension” of 32-bit code.
In an analyst briefing broadcast on Wednesday, Intel president Paul Otellini was asked about the likelihood of Intel designing 64-bit chips for the desktop. Otellinis answer seemed to indicate such a development would be some time in the future.
“You can be fairly confident that when there is software from an application and operating system standpoint that well be there,” Otellini said.
Intel will launch Prescott on Monday together with a new 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and a corresponding 3.4GHz Pentium 4. Larger distributors are now beginning to pass along their stock of the 3.2GHz, 3GHz and 2.8GHz Prescott chips to smaller dealers, who will also begin taking orders on Monday.
According to sources, Intel may also launch a slower Pentium 4 on the same day, sources said. Sources said systems running 3.4GHz Prescotts should enter the market later in the quarter.
Analysts polled last week were divided on whether the Prescott architecture will contain some form of 64-bit capability. Many suspected that the Prescott was designed with some of 64-bit functionality that wont be turned on, similar to the way in which some of the first Pentium 4 processors were equipped with the hyperthreading technology that Intel later enabled in future revisions.
Analysts said they expected a demonstration of some 64-bit compatibility technology at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco next month.
“Prescott does have a lot of technology including hyperthreading. [Theres] a lot of infrastructure that could be enabled at a later time, although were not talking about all the software it could take advantage of,” said George Alfs, an Intel spokesman on desktop processors.
Hiding the chips functionality in the 64-bit processor field. The first 64-bit desktop chip for mainstream PCs was AMDs Athlon 64, which shipped last year. Although AMD executives touted the Athlon 64s 64-bit capabilities at its launch, recently officials have painted the chip as one of the fastest 32-bit processors on the planet, somewhat downplaying its 64-bit capabilities.
“The noise around a 64-bit Prescott has died way down,” said Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research Inc. of Cave Creek, Ariz. “Theres a number of potential explanations why Intel isnt talking about it; its not up to snuff or something, or its just not there. But if the capability was present wed have heard of a lot more rumors: BIOS support, that sort of thing,” he said.
Code issues aside, analysts and industry sources have begun to paint Prescott as an iterative step ahead along Intels roadmap, perhaps best summed up by the current “Pentium 4” or “Xeon” brand name the chip will carry. Above all, Prescotts most notable attributes an increase in cache from 512KB to a 1MB, several new multimedia instructions and a higher clock speed.
“We see it as a speed bump,” said a source at one PC OEM.
Clues in Prescotts Microarchitecture
The Prescott chip will be Intels first to be manufactured on the companys new 90-nanometer process, which will allow headroom for faster designs. However, as with its previous processors, Intel may look to a variety of ways to boost processor performance beyond higher clock rates, including hyperthreading, larger caches, multiple cores and the multiprocessor virtualization “Vanderpool” technology shown at the Intel Developer Forum last September.
However, for many industry watches the Prescott architecture itself has provided evidence for 64-bit capabilities.
The “Northwood” Pentium 4 contains 55 million transistors; the Prescott contains about 125 million transistors, according to Peter Glaskowsky, editor of the Microprocessor Report and an analyst for In-Stat/MDR of San Jose, Calif. Even factoring in the additional transistors used for expanded cache, new speed paths, and additional logic to process the new instructions, the Prescott contains far more transistors than its predecessor.
Some analysts said that the extra transistors will be consumed by cache redundancy, the need for extra trace cache, and the normal safeguards built into microprocessors to prevent errors. Glaskowsky didnt buy it. “I think of that lot of that ratio is unaccounted for,” he said.
Financially, though, the addition of the extra logic may hurt Intel.
By way of comparison, Glaskowsky noted that IBMs PowerPC 970FX, a 90nm part, was about half the size of the IBM PowerPC 970. “Its considerably cheaper, about a third of the manufacturing cost, although the packaging is essentially the same,” he said. “Its faster, consumes less power, and enables new systems like the [Apple Computer Inc.] Xserve G5.”
The current “Northwood” Pentium 4 measures 132 square millimeters, and Prescott is expected to measure about 112 square millimeters, a 16 percent decrease, Glaskowsky said. “Thats not so very big in terms of manufacturing costs; thats not [a] two-to-one [ratio] in any way,” he said.
Prices for the new Prescotts are expected to be roughly on par with their Pentium 4 counterparts, according to sources, somewhat mitigating the smaller die size. One dealer said the price for the new 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition would be the “real whopper,” however; costing over $1,000 per chip.
-bit Software Infrastructure Needed”>
Determining when Intel might add 64-bit capabilities to its 32-bit chips, however, proved troublesome for analysts and Intel watchers alike.
Gelsingers comments indicated that Intel believes that the market will ripen several years down the road, observers noted. And AMDs 64-bit Opteron processor has fared well in the market, while sales of Intels Itanium have grown slowly, although the IA-64 chip dominates the Top 500 list of supercomputers.
In addition, the 64-bit OS and application infrastructure is growing slowly. Microsoft has already delayed its 64-bit version of Windows XP until the second half of this year, although the official name for its Windows Server counterpart is Windows Server 2003 For 64-Bit Extended Systems, a careful hedge to allow future Intel chips, according to Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight64.
Meanwhile, 64-bit applications also have to be completed. Intels Alfs, however, declined to specify what applications would make up an infrastructure necessary to allow them to be added. Intel has also spent a great deal of time and effort developing compilers and other software to help customers port their software to Itanium.
“All that works got to take place before we could look at 64-bits on the desktop, whether its Itanium or something else,” Alfs said.
For that reason, Brookwood said he did not believe that the current Prescott contains 64-bit code that would be compatible with either Itanium or AMDs 64-bit chips, nor did he feel that any 64-bit technology would be turned on in the current generation of chips.
Brookwood and other analysts said that they expect to see a demonstration of the technology, known as “Compatibility Technology,” to be demonstrated at the Intel Developer Forum in February. Any CT technology, as its known, will likely show up in “Tejas,” Intels next-generation processor line, due in late 2004 or early 2005.
“I believe what well see at IDF is going to be along the lines of a tech demo, like the Vanderpool technology or LaGrande or hyperthreading,” Brookwood said. “Im sure we wont see a lot of details, just a stake in the ground.”