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Intel 'Core' Focuses On Power Consumption As It Aims To Overtake AMD

Intel says a new measure of power use--energy per instructio --is the "new Holy Grail" in computing.
Power consumption is the "next frontier" for technology improvements for Intel as it brings a new architecture to mobile devices, PCs, and servers beginning in the third quarter, Intel said at its 10th annual Developer Forum today.

The new metric for measuring technology advancement with be energy per instruction (EPI), said Pat Gelsinger, Intel's senior VP and general manager of its Digital Enterprise Group. That's something of a refinement on the increasingly important performance-per-watt mantra that has driven the industry for the past two years. "Energy per instruction is the new Holy Grail for delivery performance," Gelsinger said during a keynote speech.

Rising energy costs, ever-growing server farms, and the cost of cooling data centers have made power consumption a top issue for business computing.

Intel intends to demonstrate the energy-conscious approach with the delivery of its new Core microarchitecture beginning in the third quarter. Gelsinger said this is a big year for Intel: It's launching a new process, with the introduction of processors manufactured using a 65 nanometer manufacturing capability, and it's launching a new microarchitecture in Core.

Core architecture--previously know only as Intel's next-generation microarchitecture--will be used in the second half of the year in its Woodcrest processor for servers, Merom processor for mobile computers, and Conroe processor for desktop PCs.

Intel demonstrated its Woodcrest server platform in a simulated test against an existing Sun Microsystems server using Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. That test indicated that the new Intel processor had a 35% performance improvement and 1.4X improvement in performance per watt over the Opteron processors. With Conroe, Gelsinger said the new processor will provide a 40% boost in performance compared to existing desktop Pentium processors, while providing an "almost magical" 40% reduction in power.

The new Intel processors are impressive enough that they could let Intel regain a performance edge over AMD by year end, says Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 6. If Woodcrest indeed provides a 35% boost over current AMD processors, however, AMD will have about six months to close that gap with new versions of its Opteron chips. Gelsinger says he believes the new Intel processors will maintain its performance lead over AMD even when new Opterons are introduced.

Gelsinger said Conroe will be part of Intel's newest Professional Business Platform for desktops--code-named Averill--which will be available in the second half of the year.

For dual-processor servers and workstations, Intel will ship three new processor families this year. Sossaman, a low-power processor based on Intel's mobile technology, is scheduled to ship next week and is designed for server blades, storage devices, and telecommunications equipment. Dempsey is scheduled to ship by the end of the month, with the majority of its volume shipping at less than 100 watts power.

In the third quarter, Intel will add Woodcrest, which it says will provide more than an 80% improvement in computing performance at 35% less power, or about 80 to 85 watts.

Intel also provided the first public demonstration of its quad-core processors, both on a server and in use in desktop systems used to present forum materials on Tuesday. The quad-core processors are scheduled to begin hitting the market in 2007.

Gelsinger also provided a look at the company's "next-generation" virtualization technology for business servers, called virtualization for direct I/O (VT-d), which will include I/O virtualization to assign I/O devices to virtual machines. That'll provide a more robust, higher-performing platform for virtualized systems, he said.