Intel Touts Hyperthreading in P4

The chip maker this fall will release a new version of the Pentium 4 revved up to 3GHz with an additional performance-enhancing technology called hyperthreading.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Intel Corp.s flagship processor line, the Pentium 4, will receive a double dose of improvements this fall when the chip maker releases a new version revved up to 3GHz with an additional performance-enhancing technology called hyperthreading.

Hyperthreading, which first appeared in Intel Xeon chips for workstations and servers this year, enables software to take greater advantage of untapped computing power within a processor. The technology allows Intels chips to process more streams of data, called threads, than they otherwise would, by having applications view a single processor as two virtual CPUs.

In servers, where many applications are designed for multiprocessor systems, the technology provides an up to 30 percent boost, but Intel says hyperthreading will also run applications up to 25 percent faster in the consumer PC environment as well, even though most software sold to home users is not designed for multiprocessors.

How much performance users will gain varies greatly on what applications they are running, and whether they are also running multiple applications at the same time.

With the technology just emerging on the market this year, many computer users have expressed confusion over which applications are best suited for it and how developers can adjust software to take advantage of the potential to improve their applications performance.

Even a Microsoft Corp. executive admitted he was wrong when he told eWEEK that Windows XP Home Edition would not support hyperthreading, based on the fact that only XP Pro supports multiprocessors.

"Windows XP Home Edition does in fact support hyperthreading," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Microsoft Windows XP. "While Windows XP Home does not support multiple physical processors, it does support the multiple virtual or logical CPUs enabled by Intels P4 and hyperthreading."

Intel demonstrated the potential performance improvements at the Intel Developer Forum here this week by running various applications on two nearly identical PCs running on 3GHz Pentium 4 chips. The only difference between the two systems was one had hyperthreading disabled.

In particular, hyperthreading performance advantage appeared most pronounced in multitasking, where the PCs were ordered to run several programs in different applications at the same time.

In one demonstration, the PCs, using Windows XP Pro, were used to digitally record streaming video at the same time they were also running a 3-D game application. While both 3-D games appeared to operate similarly, the distinction between the two systems became clear when the PCs went back to the streaming media applications, where it was shown that the chip with hyperthreading was able to process and store far more of the video than the other system.

Another demonstration showed the system with hyperthreading outperforming the similarly configured PC in running multiple Microsoft Office XP applications. Each PC was set up to run an Excel macro to calculate numerous mortgage rates, while at the same time archiving files inside Microsoft Office, and then finally process an Internet application. Once again, the hyperthreaded system won out.

But while Intels demonstrations showed hyperthreading winning out in running multiple programs simultaneously, the performance edge was less prominent in one-on-one comparisons of applications, due to the individual applications lack of full support for the new technology.

Executives of Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., acknowledged that computer users wont be able to enjoy the full advantage of hyperthreading until the software industry embraces it.

"As with any new technology, theres a call to action to the industry as well with this one," Intel President Paul Otellini said in his keynote address here. "In order to make multithreading happen on the desktop, we each have our respective roles. Intel has to ship a lot of silicon. … This is a huge opportunity for developers out there to take advantage of this free performance. You need to think of this in terms of building your applications."

Next year, Otellini projected that 25 percent of all Intel-based PCs shipped will feature hyperthreading, as well as 60 percent of Intel-based workstations and 80 percent of Intel-based servers.

"This technology will be in all Intel microprocessors over time," Otellini said.

In addition to touting its newest chip technology, Intel also once again used IDF to showcase its ability to rev chips to ever faster clock rates. This time around, Intel showed off a Pentium 4 built using its current manufacturing process running at speeds of up to 4.7GHz, about 2GHz faster than its current top-of-the-line 2.8GHz Pentium 4.

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