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COMPUTER PROCESSORS

Why Silicon Features are so Important Now
By: DMOS
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  • Rating: 3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars / 34
    2004-10-13

    Table of Contents:
  • Why Silicon Features are so Important Now
  • Blue Crystals Hidden in the Northwood
  • What Went Wrong?

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    Why Silicon Features are so Important Now


    (Page 1 of 3 )

    Silicon features, otherwise known through the industry as blue crystals, have not been marketed by the largest desktop CPU manufacturer nearly as hard as clock speed has for many years. How was Intel able to get away with that? Why are they no longer able to simply sell newer chips on GHz alone any more? What are they going to do about it? Those are some of the more pertinent questions out there these days.

    In the past, when Intel introduced a new architecture, it was typically a die shrink of the previous chop, more cache to make up the difference in the die size, possibly some new instructions, as well as a higher front-side bus (FSB) and the associated chipset to maximize its potential.

    The most recent kink in that plan came in 2000, with the introduction of the Pentium 4, which saw Intel shifting to the Netburst architecture. This chip was a complete departure from the P6 core which preceded it, dating back to the Pentium Pro, the first desktop superscalar design. The Netburst design was built for one thing: clock frequency scaling potential. Intel planned to use GHz to leave behind its main competitor AMD, both in performance and marketing. Most consumers, Intel speculated, would simply read bigger as better, and they were going to generate as much distance as possible.

    The first core revision released for public consumption was code named Willamette. To say that it was a rush job is an understatement of the highest order. The chip was oddly hot, power hungry, and had surprisingly little clock speed headroom, considering it was a new generation architecture. But the folks at Intel knew what they were doing. (The only reason Willamette came out was because the P6 core was simply not competitive against the Athlon, and Intel needed a response.) When the next revision of the P4 came out (the Northwood revision), usersí expectations were met an surpassed All the talk in regards to the end of easy processor scaling went away with the die shrink to .15 microns, as well as the reorganization in the core. In two years, Northwood doubled from its introductory clock speed. This was right in line with the scheduling laid out in Intelís roadmaps.

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