Intel told analysts that it is changing its fundamental design strategy to begin adding multiple microprocessor “cores” — the calculating circuitry inside computers — onto each of its chips. Intel had discussed the concept for some time, and last Friday signaled that it would accelerate the timetable for introducing such multicore technology from 2006 to 2005.
But Paul Otellini, Intel’s president and chief operating officer, yesterday indicated an even broader commitment, predicting that the conventional microprocessors that Intel invented in 1971 will quickly become a rarity.
“All of our microprocessor development going forward is now multicore,” Mr. Otellini said. “The design paradigm has shifted at Intel.”
Multicore technology had been embraced earlier by companies such as International Business Machines Corp. Intel appeared to be in less of a hurry, in part because of its past success in boosting computing performance by increasing the operating frequency of its chips.
But higher frequencies increase heat and energy consumption, big problems as Intel tries to move its chips more aggressively into portable computers and consumer-electronics devices. Putting more microprocessors on each chip can minimize the problem.
Fully exploiting multicore chips requires new software, however. Mr. Otellini said an increasing number of programs are being enhanced to do multiple chores at once, and a new Microsoft Corp. operating system dubbed Longhorn is expected to take advantage of the new technology. Mr. Otellini, speaking at the company’s annual gathering for analysts in New York, said the dual-core technology will bring a range of benefits to consumers, such as the ability to process digital video while a user does other chores.
In another new strategy, Intel has recently built specialized circuitry into chips to carry out features that will be turned on later when software to exploit them is available.
Intel believes the dual-core approach will let it offer greater performance for desktops and notebooks while circumventing power-consumption problems. Dual-core chips offer more performance than single-cores by adding more parallelism, or the ability to do multiple jobs simultaneously. A dual-core processor could, for example, render a video on one core while running a PC’s operating system and other applications on its other core, Otellini said.
Those abilities would prove particularly useful inside the digital home, where consumers are expected to record television programs on PCs or use them to share video or other content with various electronic devices. The two processor cores on a dual-core chip would also run at lower clock speeds, reducing overall power consumption, even compared with a single-core chip of similar performance, Otellini said. Chip power consumption tends to rise with clock speed.
Otellini said, “We could not ship desktop and notebook processors at 150 watts. We just couldn’t do it.” Right now, Intel’s fastest desktop Pentium 4s, which run at 3.2GHz and 3.4GHz, consume about 90 to 100 watts of power.
The dual-core strategy may also underscore a different way of thinking for the company, as outlined by senior executives at the analyst meeting.
Instead of talking about clock speeds, as they often have in past meetings, the executives stressed Intel’s approach to entire markets and outlined how they believe the company can sell more of its chips by taking advantage of occurrences such as the convergence of technologies. Going forward, Intel plans to boost its presence in the wireless computing and cellular communications markets, in addition to PCs, said Craig Barrett, Intel’s CEO, in his presentation at the meeting.
“As the technology converges, that means that our opportunities expand. This is what we’re putting all of our resources behind…(the) extension of our markets around the world,” Barrett said.