Introduction

"What you have seen is a public demonstration of 4 GHz silicon straight off our manufacturing line. We have positive indications to be able to take Netburst to the 10 GHz space."

"While architectural enhancements are important, Intel intends to continue its lead in raw speed. Otellini demonstrated a new high-frequency mark for processors, running a Pentium 4 processor at 4.7 GHz."

The first assertion was made at IDF Spring 2002, and the second press release was broadcasted after Fall IDF 2002. Fast forward to the beginning of 2004, and we read in the Prescott presentation: "2005-2010: the era of thread level parallelism and multi-core CPU technology. " What happened to "the 10 GHz space"?


Fig 1. "2005-2010: the era of thread level parallelism and multi-core CPU technology ".

The presentation of the new 6xx Prescott even states that Intel is now committed to " Adding value beyond GHz". This sounds like Intel is not interested in clock speeds anymore, let alone 10 GHz CPUs.

Already, the hype is spreading: Dual core CPUs offer a much smoother computing experience; processing power will increase quickly from about 5 Gigaflops to 50 gigaflops and so on. It is almost like higher clock speeds and extracting more ILP (Instruction Level parallelism), which has been researched for decades now, are not important anymore.

At the same time, we are hearing that "Netburst is dead, Tejas is cancelled and AMD's next-generation K9 project is pushed back." Designs built for high clock speeds and IPC (Instructions per Clock) are no longer highly regarded as heroes, but black sheep. They are held responsible for all the sins of the CPU world: exploding power dissipation, diminishing performance increases and exorbitant investments in state of the art fabs to produce these high clock speed chips. A Prescott or Athlon 64 CPU in your system is out of fashion. If you want to be trendy, get a quad core P-m, also known as Whitefield [2], made in India.

To the point

I am exaggerating, of course. A good friend of mine, Chris Rijk, said: "PR departments having no 'middle gears': they either hype something to great lengths, or not at all." Trying to understand what is really going on is the purpose of this article. We are going to take a critical look at what the future CPU architectures have to offer. Is the traditional approach of increasing IPC and clock speed to get better performance doomed? Does multi-core technology overcome the hurdles that were too high for the single-core CPUs? Are multi-core CPUs the best solution for all markets? Will multi-core CPUs make a difference in the desktop and workstation market?

In this first instalment, we explore the problems that the current CPU architectures face. The intention is to evaluate whether the solution proposed by Intel and other manufactures is a long-term solution, one that really solves those problems. We will also investigate one CPU in particular, the Intel Prescott. So, basically there are 4 chapters in this article that will discuss:

  • The problems that CPU architects face today: Wire Delay, Power and the Memory wall.
    Chapter 1 - The brakes on CPU power
  • The reason why Intel and others propose dual core as a solution to these problems.
    Chapter 2 - Why single core CPUs are no longer "cool"
  • Whether or not these problems can be solved without dual core.
    Chapter 3 - Containing the epidemic problems
  • A case study of the Intel Prescott.
    Chapter 4 - The Pentium 4 crash landing

Although Intel is undeniably the industry leader in the CPU market, this doesn't always mean that the solutions proposed are the right ones. For example, remember MMX, which was a technology that should have turned the (x86-based) PC into a multimedia monster. In hindsight, the critics were right. MMX was little more than a marketing stunt to make people upgrade.

The first implementation of hyperthreading on Intel's Foster Xeon (Willamette Xeon) was turned off by default by all OEMs. And hyperpipelined CPUs with 30+ stages turned out to be an impressive, but pretty bad idea.

In other words, not all hypes have turned out to be beneficial for the customer. Millions of customers are still waiting for the rich content on the Internet that is enabled by and runs so much faster on the Netburst architecture...


CHAPTER 1: The brakes on CPU power
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  • sandorski - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    While reading the article I couldn't help but think that when Intel states something it becomes all the buzz in the Industry and is accepted as fact. OTOH, AMD has been way ahead of Intel concerning these issues, adopting the Technologies in order to avoid the issues while Intel ran ahead right into the wall. Given the history between the 2, I'd hope that AMD's musings on the future become more relevant as they seem more in tune with the technology and its' limitations. Likely won't happen though. Reply
  • Mingon - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    I Thought originally it was reported that prescotts alu's were single pumped vs double for northwood et al. Reply
  • segagenesis - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    Heh heh heh, good timing with the recent news. Very well written and good insight on low level technology.

    It is starting to become obvious to even average joe user now that computer power for pc's has plataeu'ed (sp?) over the past year or so. You can have a perfectly functional and snappy desktop in just 2ghz or less if you use the right apps.

    I think the recent walls hit by processor technology should be an indication for developers to work better with what they have rather than keep demanding more power. We used to make jokes about how much processor power is needed for word processing, but considering MS Word runs no faster really than it did on a P2-266mhz in Office 97... urrrgh.
    Reply
  • sandorski - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    hehe, you said, "clocks peed" hehe :D
    (Chapter 1)

    good article.
    Reply
  • Ender17 - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    Interesting. Great read. Reply

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