Dual-core chip plans explored

Chipmakers tout benefits of future designs at Fall Processor Forum

Chipmakers at last week’s Fall Processor Forum presented their plans for dual-core processors alongside a discussion of how the innovative designs will improve system performance.

In order to keep improving performance, chipmakers are turning away from fast single-threaded processors toward dual-core designs that use two separate processing engines on a single chip. Companies can run those individual cores at slower clock speeds but still increase the overall performance of a system while conserving power.

“Back about five years ago, we’d start with the architecture and figure out where the power would be. Today, we start right up front with the power,” said Kevin McGrath, a fellow at AMD and manager of the Opteron processor architecture.

AMD’s dual-core Opteron will consume 95 watts of power when it is released in 2005, McGrath said. This consumption is slightly more than the 89 watts of power specified for the current generation of Opterons, but the dual-core chips will significantly outperform today’s chips, he said.

The dual-core Opterons will fit into existing Opteron servers, so IT managers can upgrade without purchasing new equipment, McGrath said.

IBM and Sun Microsystems already ship dual-core chips. Sun’s UltraSparc IV+ will run significantly faster than the UltraSparc IV chip currently available in Sun servers and come with more cache memory when it is released next year.

But not all chip companies are hot on the trail of dual-core designs. Via Technologies and Transmeta discussed forthcoming single-core chips during the show.

Via’s forthcoming Isaiah, or CN, will incorporate AMD’s 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set, said Glenn Henry, president of Centaur Research, Via’s processor design unit. 

Although Via plans to move in a dual-core direction, Transmeta said it was skeptical about the immediate benefits of the design.  Not all applications are constrained by processor performance, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. Power consumption and cost are more important to the ultraportable notebook users that Transmeta is attempting to reach with its new 90-nanometer Efficeon processors, he said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.