Vendors Detail Plans For Souped-Up Silicon - InformationWeek
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Vendors Detail Plans For Souped-Up Silicon

Chipmakers are embedding features to boost performance and ease management

Chipmakers are pressing more functionality into microprocessor technology. In the next two years, better performance, systems-management capabilities, virtualization, security, and features to help track computer assets will be built directly into the silicon.

Intel plans to embed its LaGrande security technology in its processors in 2006, bringing the capabilities to market in conjunction with Microsoft's planned Longhorn release of Windows. LaGrande will protect execution and memory environments and encrypt keystrokes and mouse clicks. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. plans a similar technology, code-named Presidio, around the same time.

Beginning with its Itanium processor line next year and Xeon and Pentium in 2006, Intel will add capabilities, code-named Vanderpool, that will let IT departments create multiple, isolated execution environments in a single machine. AMD has its virtualization technology, code-named Pacifica, scheduled for release in 2006.

Intel also plans to add Active Management Technology to its processors as part of its "embedded IT" initiative. The technology will allow for such things as asset tracking, patching, and software updates. Going forward, Intel plans to embed technologies such as data mining, networking processing, and speech recognition, too.

Chip Advancements

What's in the works:

AMD Security, virtualization, and power-management technology

IBM Cryptography, floating point capability for faster graphics processing

Intel Security, hardware-assisted virtualization, and Active Management Technology for asset tracking, patching, and software updates

Sun Microsystems Cryptography, data transmission and receipt, ability to run 32 computing jobs at once, network packet processing

The embedded management functions aren't intended to replace specialized, third-party software such as security and virtualization. "The software companies do not go away. These advancements provide much stronger building blocks for more robust solutions," says Frank Spindler, VP of Intel's corporate technology group.

Sun Microsystems also is pursuing more on-chip integration of computing functions. Plans call for the company to integrate functions, such as transmitting and receiving data from networks and performing cryptographic number-crunching, typically done by separate silicon parts onto Sun CPUs, Sun executive VP David Yen says.

Within two years, Sun plans to introduce a chip, code-named Niagara, that could run 32 separate computing "threads," or jobs, at once, and also handle processing network packets. The approach could be attractive to companies running search engines and E-commerce apps, Yen says. "Niagara, chip for chip, won't be cheaper than Intel processors, and Niagara systems won't be cheaper than PCs. But it's targeting the horizontal apps where people use hundreds of thousands of pieces of x86 hardware," he says. "Google having to build its own computers is an insult to the computing industry."

This week, AMD will reveal new PowerNow Technology that it will embed in its Opteron processor by the middle of next year. The technology will let servers and workstations dynamically power up and down to match utilization requirements, dropping power levels as much as 80% in some instances, says Ben Williams, VP of AMD's commercial and server workstation business.

IBM revealed last week more details about its multicore Cell chip, which it's designing in partnership with Sony Corp. and Toshiba Entertainment. While the chip primarily is intended to power consumer entertainment devices, IBM officials say some of its attributes also make it ideal for specialized business applications. Cell's strong floating-point capability, which helps speed graphics processing, along with its encryption and decryption capabilities, could make it ideal for use in security applications such as airport facial-recognition systems, says IBM Fellow Jim Kahle. IBM says it plans to begin producing Cell chips next year.

with Paul McDougall and Aaron Ricadela

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