Cool Chips Are Hot - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure
06:35 PM

Cool Chips Are Hot

Intel promises chips that consume less power and are easier to manage. The measure of its success will be whether they help companies cut costs.

With its chips inside about 83% of all x86 servers, PCs, and notebook computers, Intel shares some of the blame for how much time and money businesses spend just keeping their IT systems running. With last week's introduction of a chip architecture that promises lower electric bills and easier computer management, Intel took up that challenge, pledging to help companies wring out some of those IT costs.

That could free up companies' IT budgets for what their boards really care about: deploying new systems that can cut bureaucracy, help spot sales opportunities, or get products to market quicker. Most businesses spend 70% to 90% of their IT dollars simply keeping systems running. "It's harder and harder for CIOs to be able to afford to put new capabilities into their enterprises," Intel president and chief executive Paul Otellini said at the Intel Developer Forum last week.

New processors will help IT managers cut the cost of running data centers, Intel CEO Otellini says.

New processors will help IT managers cut the cost of running data centers, Intel CEO Otellini says.

Photo by DPA
If Intel's new architecture strategy delivers cost savings, it may also help polish the company's reputation for technical innovation, which has been overshadowed a bit lately by rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Otellini is promising cost savings from embedding into Intel's chips features to improve the security and manageability of IT systems. Intel says new dual-core processors due next year with built-in management and virtualization features will cut the cost of managing a data center or a building full of PCs. They also will provide more performance per watt, letting companies cut energy and cooling costs.

Intel plans to deliver processors with two or more cores that can each operate at slightly slower speeds but provide more performance than a faster, single-core chip. That lets them consume less power and generate less heat, yet provides a path for continued performance improvements. Much like how Intel sold its Centrino chip as a platform for wireless computing, it will pitch these multicore chips, combined with other Intel chips, as platforms for specific types of computing systems, including a business PC platform.

The "next-generation processor architecture" Otellini discussed last week--designed to reduce heat--will be used across all future processor lines, including those for servers, PCs, notebooks, and an emerging category of ultra-low-power systems Intel calls "handtop" computers. The first chips based on the new architecture will be dual-core and introduced in the second half of 2006. Servers based on them will provide up to 3.5 times performance-per-watt improvement over today's single-core Xeon-based servers, Intel says.

Intel is promising major advances from virtualization and management capabilities embedded into the chips. Virtualization, which will be added to Intel's processors next year, lets computers run multiple operating systems and applications in virtual partitions. By building virtualization hooks into its processors, Intel--as well as AMD with its Pacifica technology--gives third-party developers direct access to the primary operational layer of the processor. That makes it easier to create and move virtual computers from one physical server to another, boosting server usage rates so companies need fewer machines. It also helps to keep systems running when an application on a virtual computer fails.

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