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IDF Day 3: Multi Core, Many Core and Many More

More apps coming, according to Intel's Justin Rattner. Look at China Mobile LTE 4G base station in a multi-core PC, and Pentium-class mini PC running off a small solar cell

The last day of every IDF is usually reserved for a more relaxed 'future looking' keynote, delivered as usual by Intel's CTO Justin Rattner – a happy research bloke whose cheerful disposition, enormous breadth of knowledge, and oh so slight facial similarity to the actor doing the Senator Palpatine role in early Star Wars movies, gives him regular following at IDF.

He covered quite a lot on the multi-core evolution at Intel ever since the 2005 Core 2 Duo CPU. Interestingly, he omitted those infamous Netburst generation dual die Pentium 4-generation Presler processors in 2004, which at least had some lovely clock frequency records for a while and yes, were seen as dual core CPUs from the system point of view. The multi-core general purpose desktop, mobile and server CPUs were covered, as well as the many-core MIC add-on card approach for supercomputing, where the stated goal is to bring the MIC many core approach from the HPC niche to the mainstream. Note that AMD and Nvidia already do that in the mainstream – partially only, due to incompatible underlying instruction set and need for programming in OpenCL or CUDA, rather than in-line X86 – with their GPUs for a while already.


On the other end of the spectrum, their Extreme Computing team, going beyond all this, showed experiments like very low voltage threshold transistor usage to create a Pentium-class (yes, the old P55 MMX Pentium from year 1998 or so, with matching 13 year old mainboard) processor that takes only 10 mW (miliwatts!) and runs of a single credit card sized solar cell. The thing ran Windows XP with moving dancing kitten JPG, but could go up in clock by 10X too, if allowed for the voltage to reach the normal level. This all, however, would need new system infra running at such low voltages too.


Finally, they are pushing the generic multi-core PC CPU infrastructure into almost any app – here you see the joint effort with China Mobile to program the complete LTE 4G mobile base station software stack into a standard 4-core Sandy Bridge PC, using the SSE and AVX extensions as a kind of DSP feature, and reducing the cost of LTE deployment substantially.

On the other side of the story, Intel was also rapidly updating their Sandy Bridge GPU drivers to extract maximum performance, and they recommend the users downloading the freshest version with 'substantial performance' increases. Same applies to the OpenGL professional application 3-D for apps like Pro/E or CATIA being certified for the Xeon version of Sandy Bridge, the E3-1275, providing inexpensive competition to Nvidia and ATI cards in the OpenGL workstation space, where often just lots of polygons and simple texturing, but with guaranteed error free display, wins over fancy effects of the 3-D gaming world.

Overall, a good event with lots of new things, but the next major launches – the Sandy Bridge E & EP high-end processors, followed by Ivy Bridge, will be the focus over the next two quarters. Intel seems happy with their clear long term performance advantage in the mainstream and high end, and seems to devote quite a bit of their focus now to the emerging phone and tablet markets, and attempting an aggressive X86-based entry there. 

Nebojsa Novakovic
In the spare time over the past two decades, editor and writer of high-end computer hardware and design features and analysis for European and US media and analyst houses. Reviews of high end hardware are my specialty for 28 years already.

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