When I first heard "Nehalem," it called to mind the noise that Felix Unger from "The Odd Couple" made to clear his sinuses. If Intel gets its way, its Nehalem CPU and system architecture will have a similar effect on the clogged-up market. I'm hoping it will clear bogged down workloads. It's not that we're suffering mightily with the likes of Intel Core 2 Duo and AMD Opteron Shanghai and Phenom II, but it's time we were rocked by something bigger than a speed bump.
Nehalem isn't strictly new, but I hung back until I could see it in a 2P platform (meaning two CPUs, or two sockets, if that's clearer) that shows it to its best advantage. An early look at such a platform is generally supplied only by the chipmaker itself, with one exception: Apple. It's the only first-tier system maker that's willing to have its high-end machines held up as exemplars of a CPU or system architecture, knowing that, in stories like this one, the architecture is given higher billing than the system itself.
[ AMD's next big thing for servers is the Istanbul six-core Opteron CPU. See "AMD's six-shooter is loaded and ready." See also "AMD spins Moore's Law in IT's favor" and "Intel engineers stage CPU coup." ]
2P Nehalem came to me in the guise of Apple's eight-core Mac Pro. OS X's Activity Monitor shows a pair of Nehalems as a 16-core CPU. Hyper-Threading has returned to the x86, but its role and potential are much changed since it went into rehab after the fall of Pentium IV. With a smart OS scheduler and some smart programmers, Hyper-Threading could do some real damage this time around. You may recall that with single-core CPUs, Intel claimed that Hyper-Threading was capable of boosting performance up to 30 percent. Apple's published benchmarks show that an eight-core Nehalem, running at 2.9GHz, bests its prior 3GHz, eight-core Mac Pro. By my rough weighted averaging and using Apple's own numbers (not mine; that comes next), Nehalem turns in 60 to 70 percent higher numbers.