Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Two Computers in One

At the Intel Developer Forum last week, Intel demonstrated dual-core chips incorporating the Itanium (Montecito) and the Pentium M (Napa) architecture. The Itanium system demonstrated contained 4 dual-core chips using HyperThreading, which appeared as 16 processors on the task manager in Itanium Windows (crazy, huh!). However, Itanium incorporates a new architecture that breaks away from x86, so don't expect to be using a desktop with an Itanium CPU for years to come.

I am particularly anticipating the arrival of the Pentium M dual-core chip, code-name Napa. The Pentium M architecture, designed by a team in Israel, is similar to the Athlon chips in that, instead of focusing on clock speeds, improvements to other parts of the chip are done to enhance performance. It is an excellent mobile chip that is very competitive with both Intel and AMD desktop offerings, and its lower power consumption makes it ideal in a dual-core setting.

I'm not writing this article to tout Intel's next generation of chips; AMD announced and demonstrated a dual-core chip of their own a couple of weeks ago. Since the Athlon64 architecture includes HyperTransport and the on-board memory controller, it has been designed from ground-up to support dual-core processors. I can't wait to read about all of these chips and the performance we will see out of them when they arrive sometime in 2005 (hopefully).

But there is one more remark I would like to make about Intel. Last fall, Intel announced a work-in-progress called Vanderpool. Vanderpool is a chip technology that will allow you to use one processor to run multiple operating system. With dual-core processors coming out next year, it would make sense to incorporate such a technology into these chips. Just imagine being able to run both FreeBSD and Linux (or Windows) on the same machine at the same time. With a multi-monitor and keyboard/mouse configuration, you could be playing a game on one core and watching a movie on the other without much impact on either tasks.

I can't wait for Vanderpool to be introduced into the PC market. With a technology like that, I think I might have to jump back to the Intel camp, or AMD will definately have to take advantage of their cross-license agreement, if possible. One other note I wanted to make about Vanderpool is how Intel could use it to gain market share with Itanium. Itanium has been slow to catch on due to high costs and limited software availability. Since Intel has already announced their plans for dual-core Itanium, it would be pretty cool to see a dual-core Itanium-Pentium chip. With Vanderpool, Intel will be able to vouch the ability to run native Itanium and native Pentium applications. Although both cores cannot be combined, it would be a good entry-level product to get people to start using Itanium. I guess we'll see what Intel decides to pull out of its sleeve in the coming years.

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