Low-power Merom completes Intel’s processor revamp

The chip giant was able to slash power consumption considerably in Merom compared to Conroe

Merom, the long-awaited mobile companion to the Conroe (desktop) and Woodcrest (server/workstation) processors, was launched by Intel last week.

Based on the Israeli-developed Banias and Dothan processors which led Intel’s march away from high frequencies and power consumption to low clock speeds and less electricity usage, Merom is very similar to the Conroe desktop part.

Like Conroe, Merom has two processor cores and, depending on model, 2MB to 4MB of shared Level 2 cache. It succeeds the Yonah Core Duo chip that was released in January and according to Intel’s business development manager Sean Casey, provides a 20% performance bump over the older processor.

The main difference between Conroe and Merom is that the latter Mobile Core 2 Duo is the Intel Intelligent Power Capability, or IIPC. Thanks to the 65nm process strained-silicon, low dielectric constant process technology and and Enhanced Intel SpeedStep (EIST) featuring aggressive clock gating, low VCC arrays and transistors with low current leakage, the chip giant was able to slash power consumption considerably in Merom compared to Conroe, which by itself has been lauded for using less power than the older Netburst architecture processors.

Conroe’s thermal dissipation is around 65 Watts, but Merom halves that. Not only that, Casey points to the Low Voltage (LV) and Ultra-Low Voltage Merom parts that consume a mere 17 and 9.5 Watts respectively. The ULV Meroms are mainly destined for small, ultraportables and UMPCs (ultra-mobile PCs), Casey says.

A further enhancement to the Merom CPUs compared to Yonahs is that they now support Intel’s 64-bit extensions. Customers have told Intel they want to run 64-bit operating systems and applications on their notebooks, Casey says. However, the likelihood of support for memory configurations over 4GB in notebooks is slim at the moment, he says. Not only isn’t there the need yet, but using current memory technology would adversely impact power usage and the DDR RAM form-factor makes it hard to squeeze in large amounts of modules into portable computers.

Looking ahead, Casey says Intel is going to launch 45nm SDRAM in January to show that it has that fabrication technology to build processors with. Smaller process technology provides the opportunity to add more cores, Casey says, when asked if there’s a possibility of quad cores making it into notebooks. Intel will release quad-core processors for desktops at the end of September.

A side effect of Intel’s move away from “megahertz marketing” to more efficient multicore computing is, Casey says, that Intel customers are having to unlearn how they design applications to make the most of the enhancements in the new generation processors.

Intel currently has some 5,000 software developers of which 1,000 are assigned to help Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) to re-engineer their software.

Notebooks are moving to the fore, however. Casey says that corporate adoption of portables is increasing. He adds that a portable computer is the standard issue at Intel now, with some 80% of staff having them. Desktops are assigned mainly to development engineers who require the additional computing power, but for other staff, mobility and power savings are key reasons for management providing them with portables, Casey says.

He adds jokingly that as an added bonus, portability means management can get more work out of staff as well, since staff find it easier to take work home with them.

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