Intels Barrett: More to Life than Gigahertz

Q&A: Craig Barrett defends the company's shift in emphasis from clock speed to multicore designs as he outlines his final six months as chief executive.

Intel Corp. has set the pace in the microprocessor industry, cranking out chips that operate at breakneck computing speeds. So when the company, under the direction of CEO Craig Barrett, began steering away from its speed-fiend image and toward multicore and partitioned designs, people took notice.

For some, it was inevitable, as Intel had been enduring a string of missteps including the unceremonious cancellation of its 4-GHz Pentium "Prescott" chip this month. It was as if the Santa Clara, Calif., company had overestimated its market clout and its ability to understand the needs of its IT users. With just six months left before he is scheduled to cede the CEO position to Intel president and chief operating officer Paul Otellini, Barrett said the company is heading in the right direction.

In an interview with Executive Editor Stan Gibson and Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., last week, Barrett explained the companys recent strategy shifts and his approach to the final six months of his tenure.

The cancellation of the 4-GHz Pentium 4 is symbolic of a shift from faster clock speeds to different architectures, such as dual core. What event raised the flag that you had to move in a different direction?

Paul Otellini said a couple of years ago at the Intel Developer Forum that theres more to life than gigahertz. Prescott [4GHz] was the tail end of that architecture. It gets more and more difficult to crank that performance out, and you have to look at other enhancements.

/zimages/7/28571.gifAnalysts expect Intels transition between single-core and dual-core processors to be gradual. Click here to read more.

So, it wasnt a sharp turn in the road?

Internally, we refer to it as "the right-hand turn." The whole world was blasting along in the gigahertz war. But the industry as a whole has recognized that with Moores Law, you cant continue to run more transistors faster—the power [heat] dissipation just gets to be too great.

We can continue to run more processors, but in a different fashion. Thats the right-hand turn: using those transistors to create other technologies—whether its virtualization, security, multiple cores or multiple threads—and to use those to bring more performance to the end user.

Does the microprocessor road map embrace that?

Yes. Everything moves off dual core—or multiple core—and multiple threads in the future. In addition, the architectures are designs that are the most power-efficient. What are the most power-efficient architectures today? Pentium M architectures a hell of a lot more power-efficient than Prescott. So were going to do two things: build off the most power-efficient capability and go to multiple cores and leave the speed game on the side.

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