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Intel, AMD in war of words

Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) strutted their stuff at last week's Micro Processor Forum trade show in San Jose, Calif. But, observers said, the rival chipmakers were showing more sizzle than steak, as executives avoided talking about ship dates and showing real demonstrations.

AMD's forthcoming Opteron microprocessor promises better integer performance than all other server processors, company CTO Fred Weber said during the conference. Weber touted the processor's benchmark metrics and showed conference attendees charts of the chip's performance scaling more dramatically than Intel's Xeon as both processors ratchet up their frequency.

During tests in the company's labs, Weber said, a server running a 2GHz Opteron achieved an estimated SPECint 2000 score of 1,202 and an estimated SPECfp 2000 score of 1,170 -- higher than most competing chips on the market today.

Intel claims an integer performance rating of 893 for its 2.5GHz Pentium 4 Xeon processor, and an 810 rating for its Itanium 2. IBM Microelectronics' dual-core Power 4 comes in with a rating of 790.

Weber also predicted AMD would soon announce a further 10% to 20% performance increase for the processor in its 64-bit mode.

''That's very impressive performance,'' said Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. ''It beats everything else out there in integer performance, though they are still behind Intel's Itanium in floating-point performance.''

But AMD was all unverified benchmarks and no details, making the 2GHz Opteron presentation look more like a momentum builder than anything substantive. Moreover, the company has not actually committed to releasing a chip at those speeds.

For its part, Intel gave attendees a peek at the future of the Itanium processor. During his keynote presentation, senior engineer and Intel Fellow John Crawford unveiled a design for a billion-transistor processor. Emphasizing that it wasn't a product announcement, Crawford showed attendees a blueprint for a chip featuring four cores surrounding a shared 12MB to 16MB memory cache.

''This is eminently doable, and you can expect things of this nature coming out,'' Crawford said. ''Advances in technology are propelling us toward the era of the 1 billion-chip microprocessor.''

Hyperthreading, a technology Intel introduced earlier this year in its Xeon server processors, is ideally suited for multicore processors, Crawford said. Essentially, hyperthreading allows a single CPU to act like two virtual CPUs by splitting the data stream. The technique makes fuller use of the processor, boosting overall performance by up to 30%, according to Intel. In a four-core processor, such as the one previewed by Crawford, hyperthreading would speed up data exchanges between the cores.

The multiple-core architecture could also help Intel to cope with a major performance obstacle: heat. As chip makers pack more and more transistors onto their possessors, the temperatures on those slivers of silicon continue to rise. Dividing the processor's core four ways spreads out the heat and makes current cooling techniques more effective.

''We are spreading out hot spots across the die into four areas,'' Crawford said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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