Future Intel Chips Signal Design Shift
Last week, Intel confirmed the existence of two future processor designs that are expected to begin the company's shift away from separate architectures for desktop, server, and mobile chips toward a common architecture around 2007.
At a meeting for financial analysts in New York last week, Intel President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini gave a presentation with an updated processor road map that included Merom, a future dual-core notebook processor; Conroe, a future dual-core desktop processor; and Woodcrest, a future dual-core server processor for two-chip servers. Although Otellini did not provide details about those chips, sources familiar with Intel's plans said last year and again this week that these chips will share many of the same architectural features in a design inspired by the current Pentium M processor.
On Monday, Intel spokespeople in the company's desktop and mobile groups declined to comment on unannounced products. But Intel executives have shown an increasing willingness of late to comment on the gradual introduction of mobile technologies into desktop and server chips.
Over the next six to eighteen months, Intel's desktop and server chip designers plan to borrow techniques from the mobile group to improve performance per watt of power consumption in desktops and servers, said Abhi Talwalkar, vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, during the analyst meeting last week. This will have an impact on IT budgets by making it easier to cool PCs and servers as well as reducing management costs with a common software image that can be used for either desktops or notebooks, he said.
Don McDonald, vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group, said earlier this year that his newly formed organization has been given the freedom to use technology from any part of Intel to build chips for home-entertainment products such as set-top boxes and media-oriented PCs. Mobile technologies found in the Pentium M design are high on his list, he said in an interview at the Intel Developer Forum in March.
Conroe, Merom, and Woodcrest are expected to use many of the power-efficient characteristics of the Pentium M processor. Intel's power-hungry Netburst architecture is still the foundation for current Pentium 4 and Xeon chips but appears to be on its way out with the introduction of Conroe and Woodcrest.
For the past five years, Intel has improved chip performance by increasing the clock speed of its Pentium 4 processors. This has the unfortunate effect of increasing the power consumption of those chips, and current leakage problems brought on by the move to smaller transistors caused widespread concern about the heat given off by these fast chips.
The Pentium 4's Netburst architecture was designed to let Intel's desktop and mobile chips reach higher clock speeds, in line with Intel's marketing efforts at the time, which were largely focused on pushing clock speed as the most easily understood indicator of processor performance. However, that thinking shifted with the successful introduction of the Pentium M notebook processor in 2003.
The Pentium M runs at slower clock speeds than Pentium 4 processors but is designed to do more work per clock cycle. The latest Pentium M processors deliver performance equivalent to high-end desktop chips, Intel said in January at the launch of the new chips.
The combination of performance and power efficiency in the Pentium M's design also makes it ideal for the new dual-core and multicore processor designs under development at Intel, says Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of The Microprocessor Report in San Jose, California.
"The Netburst architecture has completely hit a wall here," Krewell says. "With a focus on reducing power per core, you start to pave the way for four cores per processor."
Conroe and Merom are scheduled to be released toward the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007, while Woodcrest is slated for 2007, Otellini said.