IDF Spring 2006 Coverage: Day 1

As always I am glad to share with you some really exciting news fresh from the Intel Developer Forum that has just started in San Francisco, California. Some new from the multi-core front, cool CPU shots, details about Intel's innovative technolgoies and plans for the future. All on X-bit labs!

by Anna Filatova
03/07/2006 | 12:39 PM

As always I am glad to share with you some really exciting news fresh from the Intel Developer Forum that has just started in San Francisco, California. 10 years in a row Intel has been putting together a great show and an exciting technology event for us, so I think we can all congratulate Intel on the 10th anniversary of this initiative and wish them to keep up the good work.


The Keynote today started with an opening speech by Justin Rattner, Intel Chief Technology Officer. He highlighted the key challenges that emerged because of the rapid technology development and the tremendous competitive pressure that Intel has been going through lately. However, all these hardships haven’t taken away the excitement and desire to imagine and create new technology.

So, what has Intel been imagining and creating these days? Let me try to give you a preview of the broad landscape of technology that will be stepping forward over the next few months.

Energy. This is something we are dealing with all the time. And this is something that is of critical concern not only in our everyday lives, but also in every platform that emerges in the market. Energy is of crucial importance for all sorts of platforms, from handhelds to servers. Each type of platform out there has a power envelope existing within a given power budget that needs to be understood and managed.

This is where we think of a major fundamental tradeoff we have to put up with: you have to sacrifice performance for the sake of power saving, or vice versa. The question we ask ourselves is absolutely natural: is there a way out of the dilemma between power and performance?

In fact, the tendency we see here is quite alarming: every increase in performance is simply impossible without the increase in energy and power consumption. So, some work has to be down to break through this power wall. And the solution was found: Pentium M core design.

With the new core design we can now build processors that could require low power and at the same time offer pretty high performance. And Intel didn’t stop at the Pentium M design. They continued to develop the technology and introduced dual-core, a next level of technology development, that brought the revolution to the industry. This is how Core Due came into this world.

Core Due was developed to serve primarily the mobile platform. Now it is finding its way into other platforms as well. Among those are for example such platforms as blade servers. And at this stage we understand that the tradeoff concept that we have just mentioned is in fact more complex:

There is the third corner to the triangle: the capability. In other words, we do not only have to strive for high performance and high energy efficiency, but we also need to make sure that the capabilities of the solution are there.

Intel Core Micro-architecture is a combination of energy, performance and capabilities (such as 64bit support, virtualization, etc.) that deliver outstanding performance across a wide range of platforms, including servers and desktops.

What are the solutions developed within Intel Core Micro-architecture concept. Here we are talking about high volume 65nm process that promises to deliver 20% higher transistor performance and 30% lower switching power:

Intel intends to continue financial investments into this promising project to bring more fabs online very soon. But increasing the production volumes is not all. They will also continue working on the process itself and will switch to 45nm in 2007.

This reincarnation of the finer production technology will allow building larger caches, will reduce the die size of the CPU cores, and of course will allow embedding more cores into a single physical die.

There are hundreds of innovations that Intel is constantly working on in respect to the new products and technologies. However, at this keynote Justin Rattner highlighted only the 5 key ones. Let’s check out what they actually are:

  1. Intel Wide Dynamic Execution. Intel widened the execution pipeline so that now 4 instructions can be processed within a single clock cycle. As a result, fewer cycles are needed for processing the same amount of instructions and hence less energy is consumed for the same amount of work. They have also enhanced the ability to combine instructions. Now they are talking not only about micro-fusion, when simpler instructions were combined into a single one, but they have also introduced macro-fusion, i.e. when such complex instructions as “compare” and “jump” can be put together into a single instruction.
  2. Intel Advanced Digital Media Boost. This innovation deals with SSE family of instructions. Now the entire family of SSE instructions will be executed in a single cycle.
  3. Intel Advanced Smart Cache (L2 cache). They introduced shared cache structure and incorporated the advanced caching algorithms. Now the info will be more efficiently shared between the processors. Even if one CPU is idle at a given moment of time, the other CPU will be able to take the advantage of the entire cache. In other words, there will be no partitioning of the cache space.
  4. Intel Smart Memory Access. Intel introduced improved pre-fetch algorithms that deliver additional flexibility for ordering loads and stores. These algorithms allow to significantly improve efficient energy distribution and performance.
  5. Intel Intelligent Power Capability. Here they imply advanced power gating, i.e. they shut down those systems that are not needed for instruction execution.

These key innovations that we have just talked about will find their way into three major platforms: mobile, desktop and server. In the mobile field we will see Merom processor that will deliver 20% higher performance at the same level of power consumption. In the desktop segment we will see Conroe processor with 40% performance increase and simultaneous 40% reduction in power consumption. In the server environment the 5 key innovations will be introduced in the Woodcrest platform that will run 80% faster and require 35% less power.

But besides the innovative technologies, there is one more important feature typical of all these solutions: they are all multi-core.

We see a very clear tendency towards exponential increase of the number of processor cores:

But is Intel going to double the number of processors again in 2008? Probably not. Justin Rattner assured us that they will roll out additional cores as the applications require those.

Multi-threaded software continues developing. And this is what determines the pace at which the multi-core continues picking up the speed. Many leading ISVs have already taken advantage of the new technologies and implemented them in their related software.

Core multi-architecture, multi-core processors and multi-threaded software, seems to be all that we should cover at this point. But we haven’t yet mentioned the platforms. And this is a totally new level where we should consider energy-efficiency.  Now the CPU has become only 33% of the platform power and energy consumption, so by improving the CPU only, we cannot really achieve much. There are other systems that require our attention. So, what will it take to increase the platform energy efficiency?

If we could keep most of the processes in idle state for a longer period of time we could improve platform efficiency. Intel has created an experimental system that implements the capability we have just mentioned:

This is the platform and display subsystem with the self-refresh capability. Intel implemented extended idle mode and managed to drop the power consumption from 6W to 3.5 W without losing any efficiency:

Then they turned off the mainboard and though the picture on the display didn’t change and the system remained working the power has dropped down to 1W.

So here we are looking at a new generation of energy efficient systems. It is not juts an OS system issue, it is a combination of parameters that should be taken into account: operating system, communication and storage, I/O devices such as display, etc. This is something Intel and their partners intend to continue working on to deliver benefits for the end users. It is their primary job to imagine, create and deliver this technology to the industry.

In conclusion to my first IDF report I would like to offer you a few pictures of some products Intel has already created: