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Visionary sees rich opportunities in multicore

Posted: 18 Dec 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:processor? multicore? quad-core? Intel? Justin Rattner?

Rattner: Asia is not behind anyone else in terms of adoption of the new processors.

Extraordinary foresight and imagination characterize a true visionary. Justin Rattner's clear view of the distant future makes him worthy of the title. Intel Corp.'s chief technology officer, senior fellow and director of its corporate technology group, has been recognized for his technical leadership and sterling contributions to the industry. He has received from the company two Achievement Awards for his work in high-performance computing and advanced cluster communication architecture.

In an interview with EE Times-Asia, Rattner talked about Intel's embrace of the multicore solution and its impact on the current computing platform. The company is ending 2006 with the release of the QX6700 Core 2 Extreme Quad for desktops and the Xeon 5300 series for servers. Rattner also discussed Intel's ongoing research activities, predicting how these efforts will shape the company's future.

EE Times-Asia: How are things going with your quad-core line?
Justin Rattner: We feel that we're in very good shape in terms of getting ready for production. We have had a quad-core system running since I demonstrated the Clovertown system to the press in February, so we had enough time to resolve any issues or problems. We are looking forward to a very solid release and to ramping products in volume quickly.

How ready is the market for these processors?
I think it's showing much greater readiness than we expected. On the server side, most of the applications are already multithreaded, so it doesn't take much software effort to migrate those applications onto quad-core.

The enthusiasm coming from the client side is surprising. We're delighted with the response from the more demanding client-side applications!particularly high-end gaming!where I think quad-core will be a huge success. We are even getting responses from workstation applications, such as financial services, where people are running many applications at the same time. We may even be surprised with how in-demand quad-core systems will fare on the client side.

Will all the focus be on quad-core?
Certainly not. Quad-core is definitely coming into the client-server side!it is the high-end offering. But the bulk of our desktop and mobile systems will certainly remain dual-core for some time. We are expanding the range of customers and markets that we serve, and I think that collective offering will be a source of strength for our business.

How will the multicore architecture change the current computing and design platforms?
When you are able to pack that much performance into the processor, you are going to put demands on other aspects of the platform, such as good memory bandwidth and excellent I/O performance!all of those are critical to the issue of balance.

The fundamental aspect of a good platform design is a well-balanced platform, and with the performance results that we've seen so far, I think we have one in our hands. That's the critical thing. The platform really has to keep pace with the processor, and we don't want to limit the performance potential of these processors by not having adequate memory or I/O performance. So in all our designs, we pay attention to overall balance.

How would you compare the reactions of designers from the United States, Asia and Europe to your multicore platform?
There isn't much core platform design going on in Europe!it is really concentrated now in Asia. It's hard to compare in terms of geographic areas. Relative to the U.S., I don't see any less enthusiasm from our Asian partners!I think they are moving quickly. We have turned around several major accounts in Asia that were perhaps lukewarm about a year ago. But since the products are readily available, they come back, showing a lot of interest in the multicore!even the quad-core products. Asia is not behind anyone else in terms of adoption of the new processors.

You mentioned that Asian designers were lukewarm a year ago. What do you think changed their perception?
I think there were a lot of people who didn't take multicore seriously. Perhaps they thought it will be a niche product and specialty item that's not going to see broad adoption. But when they saw our product road map!that we are going multicore from 2006 onwards, from notebooks to servers, and that we have made a complete transition to multicore!I think they realized that it's not an isolated development. They recognized the fact that this will mark a fundamental transition for the industry.

China and India are among the largest emerging markets. Are you working with local companies there and are your R&D efforts geared toward these two markets?
Absolutely. In fact, as part of my management responsibilities, I have a network of research labs around the world. We have a lab in Bangalore and another one in Beijing. Both are actively involved in the local research community. Many of our researchers are part of the faculty of local universities, so we are engaged on the research side. The development parts of Intel are equally engaged in creating platforms that are targeted at emerging markets.

How will your new initiatives affect Taiwan in the IT supply chain?
We are getting tremendous response from the ODMs in Taiwan, and I think they are genuinely excited about the Intel product line. They are bringing out more and more Intel-based multicore designs and the numbers would show that the majority of motherboards coming out of Taiwan are Intel-based.

How are things progressing with your tera-scale research and 45nm manufacturing efforts?
Well, 45nm is looking very good. We're already building, but not in production yet. We still have a lot of work to do as we get ready for production. That's happening in our D1D fab in Oregon. We have two other 45nm fabs in construction!one is in Arizona that will come online on 2H of next year and another one in Israel that will commence operations in 1H of 2008.

The capacities are coming online, so we'll start shipping products by 2H of next year. But we'll be sampling products before that. We're probably looking at another 20 percent improvement in performance and perhaps, more importantly, a reduction in leakage power, which is part of the energy-efficient performance equation.

Tera-scale is one of our major, long-term research activities. We've made significant progress in that area. We showed the first of our fully programmable tera-scale processors. We'll be getting it powered up and tested.

What amazes me is that I worked on the world's first teraflop computer systems that Intel built a decade ago, which took thousands of square feet and consumed thousands of watts. It's astonishing that in just 10 years, the advancement in Moore's law has gone from a roomful of computer equipment down to one chip with potentially comparable performance. The development has really been astounding.

We're very concerned that we won't have enough memory bandwidth to keep up with tera-scale processors. So we designed a special memory chip that is stacked with the processor. The two chips are bonded face to face. We made thousands of simultaneous connections between these two chips. The memory chip supplies the processor chip with a terabyte per second of memory bandwidth. Thus, you have a teraflop of continuing power and a terabyte per second of memory bandwidth. We view both of these designs as key building blocks for tera-scale systems beginning around the end of the decade. It's an important step for us, one that builds our confidence that we'll have the technology ready to go by 2010.

What's next for Intel?
We're investigating different opportunities. I think the Santa Rosa platform is a very important next step for Intel!the introduction of a NAND flash memory into the platform that initially served as a very-high-performance disk cache. Santa Rosa incorporates what we call Robson technology, which makes NAND flash very effective as a cache. So a Santa Rosa platform boots in a few seconds. Applications on this platform boot in seconds!they are more responsive. For consumers, the Santa Rosa machine and platform, and the platforms that follow it are really going to be much faster and more responsive.

Santa Rosa is just the first of these platforms. We're going to take this technology into our Viiv platform, the entertainment and gaming spaces. So I think there will be some genuine consumer excitement over these platforms as they come to market in 2007, and the use of flash memory is only going to extend over time. We have more and better ideas on how we want to use these platforms, but we'll talk about these over the next few years.

- Celeste dela Torre
Electronic Engineering Times - Asia




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