Intel has confirmed that in future all its chips will be multicore, while parting the kimono a little on future desktop, server and mobile processor plans.
In a briefing this week, the vice president of Intel's Desktop Platforms Group, Stephen Smith, said that the desktop-oriented "Smithfield" — whose existence he publicly confirmed for the first time — is to be a 90-nanometer process, dual-core processor. Smith would neither confirm nor deny on whether it would still be called a Pentium 4 — which hints that it may not be, especially since the slides he provided showed the next generation products as a separate model line from the Pentium 4. It is due out in 2005.
By 2006, Intel expects to have moved Smithfield's production to a 65nm process and be in the throes of designing multicore desktop chips. However, it's not clear whether the dual-core chip will be a new design or simply a pair of existing P4 chips in one package.
Server chips are already moving towards dual-core and Smith says by the end of 2006 Intel expects 85% of server processor shipments will consist of dual-core products, while desktop and mobile chips will have reached 70%. Considering only 65% of its shipments this year consist of its hyper-threaded technology (HT), theses are aggressive plans.
Smith however took pains to highlight Intel's considerable global R&D and production facilities, saying that these would be brought to bear on the problem. According to Smith, the upshot will be performance improvements — at a purely processor level — of up to ten-fold over the next four years. He says if Intel stuck with HT and boosted the speed of the chips, performance improvements would only be three-fold.
"With dual-core we can assign increased hardware support for each thread and get stronger benefit for threaded execution compared to hyper-threading," he says. "With HT the hardware could just cope — going multicore means going onto further cores over time — four or more."
Smith also says Smithfield would fit into the same "thermal envelope" as today's Prescott chips. Decoding the Intel-speak, this means they won't use much more power and therefore generate much more heat.