Intel finally kicked ever-increasing clock speed off its must-have list for new chips yesterday, scrapping a planned 4GHz Pentium 4 and redeploying engineers to the development of its dual core chips and star T add-on technologies.
The move comes near the close of one of the most turbulent years for Intel in recent memory, with a succession of products being rescheduled, recalled or just plain dumped from the roadmap.
Yesterday’s switch also raises questions over how Intel will maintain customer interest in its product line between now and the launch of its new architecture, and how it will market the new dual core technology once it arrives.
Intel’s 4GHz Pentium 4 had originally been slated for release for this year’s holiday season. However, in July, the vendor revealed the part had been postponed until the New Year.
Yesterday, it revealed that it no longer planned to ship the 4GHz part. Instead, it will realign its development resources to focus on its dual and multi-core strategies, and on the development of the Ts, add-on technologies such as its VT virtualization technology and Legrand, its hardware-based security technology.
Intel only disclosed its plans to launch dual and multi-core processors in May, although it says the move has been on the cards for years. Switching to multi-core helps the vendor get round some of the power and heat issues it has been bumping up against as its ramps up clock speed and crams ever more transistors onto a die.
At the time, Intel said it expected to launch dual core desktop and mobile processors some time next year, with Xeons going dual core at a later date. A mid-2005 launch date is expected for the desktop and notebook product.
A spokesman for Intel yesterday declined to comment on whether yesterday’s realignment of resources would speed up the launch of the dual core parts, or whether they were made to ensure the multi-core technology emerged to Intel’s existing, undisclosed, schedule.
The spokesman also could not say if the realignment was designed to speed up the development of the Ts, to ensure they were ready to be integrated into the dual core products when they are ready to ship. Virtualization technology, for example, will allow a system to run multiple operating systems and would be seen as a key addition to a dual core system.
The realignment would not result in any personnel leaving Intel’s development team, the spokesman added.
There has been speculation on whether the vendor will use a single core architecture to underpin both its mobile and desktop, and possibly server, lines, once it moves to dual core. The Intel spokesman yesterday said, The current plan is for separate dual core cores for desktop and mobile.
Asked if the realignment and the switch away from Pentium 4 would have an effect on Intel’s chipset roadmap, the spokesman said, We’re not announcing any changes.
One consequence of the accelerated shift to dual and multi-core technologies could be the dampening down of any suggestions that Intel has too much manufacturing capacity following its spending spree right through the semiconductor downturn which began in 2000.
Intel will be massively increasing the number of cores coming off its lines once the dual core platform ships. However, this also raises the question of how Intel will manage its revenues. It had previously said that dual core products will slot into its existing price bands. Intel’s spokesman yesterday could offer no information on how Intel will set pricing for its dual and multi-core products when they finally launch.
Speed bumps have always been the most significant markers on Intel’s roadmap. With the 4GHz Pentium 4 wiped from the horizon and dual core products unlikely to appear until well into next year, Intel needs to give users and OEMs something to shoot for in the meantime. The vendor will bump up the level 2 cache on its Pentium 4 parts from 1MB to 2MB, beginning with its top speed part, and then cascading down the clock speeds.
In addition, the vendor will look to other architectural changes, such as enhanced bus speeds, to continue to push the performance of its processors.