Processor push

Intel is making great efforts to boost its processor range in response to increased competition from rival chipmaker AMD.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  June 1, 2006

|~|ferhad200.jpg|~|Patel: Core 2 Duo are cutting-edge components that will be used across our products.|~|When Dell recently announced that it is to end its long-standing agreement to use only Intel chips and will bring out multi-processor servers based on AMD's Opteron processors by the end of this year, many thought it heralded the beginning of the end for Intel's dominance of the PC and server space.

But in a market where technology leadership tends to be brief, Intel has released new brand identities that it hopes will boost its business and stem AMD's growing market share. Analysts, in general, concur.

Last month, Intel announced the launch of its new processor brand, Core2Duo, which will be used within its desktops for business and consumer use. “Core 2 Duo are components which will also be used in other platforms, for example in our ViiV brand for consumers,” says Ferhad Patel, Intel country manager for Saudi Arabia.

This follows the launch in April of its vPro desktop brand, which is based around the Conroe dual-core processor and aimed at the high end of the market. Intel has also announced a desktop for gamers and design professionals, named Core 2 Extreme, which will have extra graphic-handling capabilities.

At the launch event in Munich, Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president, general manager, digital enterprise group, said that the introduction of vPro was a response to industry needs and would help deliver value to businesses.

“We want to include built-in manageability and proactive security as part of that base platform,” he said discussing Intel’s roadmap.
VPro will include Intel's new Active Management Technology (AMT), which is integrated into the chipset and allows machines in the network to be maintained remotely.

“It allows a PC, whether it's switched on or off, to be audited, repaired, keep software agents, securely wake and update systems,” said Gelsinger. “It automates all housekeeping processes.”

Computers with AMT can automatically isolate themselves from a network if infected, meaning they do not spread viruses to other computers in a business. They can then be examined and repaired remotely, even if the computer is powered down. It can then be restored to the network.
“It's as if we have taken an IT manager and melted him into the silicon,” said Gelsinger.

Using vPro's AMT system could enable businesses to cut their IT management costs by reducing the number of desk-side visits that IT staff have to make to users.

“You can now put filters directly into the PC to detect anomalous behaviour in that PC,” Gelsinger explained. “As soon as it's identified, it says 'take me off the network'. Using out of band network you can deal with it and reconnect to the network without having expensive desktop visits.”

At the conference, Intel introduced a host of developers and analysts who explained how the new processor could boost business processes. The chipmaker is working with Altiris, the service-oriented management software provider, to cut down response time to viruses. Jan Newman, vice-president of business development at Altiris, said: “I would make the prediction that this will change the way we manage our systems.”

It will also maintain its close links with Microsoft. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, said in a video message: “I'm thrilled that Microsoft and Intel are continuing to work together to provide people-ready solutions that help streamline costs and improve office efficiency. AMT will really help drive down total cost of ownership.”

The desktop has been received warmly by developers. Pieter Buijs, chief technology officer at IT services provider Atos Origin, said that pilot testing of AMT by his company saw a 55-86% reduced time to diagnose and resolve certain cases. Both Atos Origin and EDS have seen evidence that installing a network with AMT could help to cut by more than half the number of desktop visits for IT restoration work needed by a typical company.

Niklas Zennström, CEO of Skype, the communications software developer, said that the advances in vPro would benefit business users, who make up 25% of Skype's users.

“We wanted to make a better sound experience. We could do that with clever coding and better processor technology, he said, adding that when using the programme on many desktops, some parts of conversations could be lost and sound quality could be poor because some processors could not handle the workload. He said that the Conroe processor in the vPro desktop made conversations clearer and allowed uninterrupted speech.

“We've doubled the number of people in conference calls thanks to Intel's dual core processor,” he said. “We're working together with Intel to make that optimisation better.”

Skype's new video conferencing function is particularly CPU-intensive. The company will soon be introducing its VoIP service to handheld devices and wireless services. “That's one of the areas where we are very excited to work with Intel,” Zennström added.

Will Swope, vice president and director, digital enterprise brand management, Intel, said that the leap in performance to the Conroe processor would not only enable users to make performance gains of 40%, but could also give them a 40% improvement in energy consumption. “This is a once-a-decade improvement,” he said. He added that Intel would be producing a mobile desktop version shortly, but had focused on the desktop version first to avoid delays.

Analysts were also keen to add their opinions. Speaking at the launch event, Brian Gammage, vice president and distinguished analyst, client computing, Gartner, said that PC manufacturers needed to do something to resolve the conflict between the needs of users, who may want to use their own applications on their desktops, and the needs of an organisation. “In your personal life, IT is empowering you to do things you've never done before,” he said. “But the IT department relies on standardisation and fixed configurations.”

Gammage suggested that virtualisation, which can create partitions within a network, might be the way to solve this. “It's important to be able to draw a line between what's yours and what's theirs,” he said. He added that virtualisation would be very memory-intensive and that developers had not agreed on how the licencing model would work. It is possible that each partition would be regarded as a separate user. vPro will allow virtualisation through its Virtualisation Technology (VT).

New research from Forrester, entitled: 'Intel delivers the first phase of its low-power strategy', finds that Intel has achieved its aims for power efficiency with its latest processor rollouts.

“With the introduction of the latest dual-core low-power Xeon, code-named Sossaman, Intel has delivered a processor that can run many 32-bit workloads at the fraction of the power of its predecessors,” it states.

“In addition, Intel has publicly revealed enough details about its forthcoming Core architecture, slated for delivery later this year, to convince Forrester that users can expect a line of 64-bit processors that are both much faster and more power-efficient.”

The report goes on to say that after three years of domination by AMD with Opteron, the first 64-bit x86 processor and dual-core server to hit the market, Intel has managed to pull itself back into contention by following the roadmap it laid out in late 2005. It also points out that most modern data centres are still reliant on 32-bit hardware, and says that Sossaman will be particularly useful in these environments.

Intel has since argued that users should look beyond performance-per-watt when it comes to the power consumption of computer systems. “This is not about performance-per-watt, it's about capability-per-watt,” insisted Swope, at a company event in Oregon, US, last month.

Features such as AMT place extra demands on the processor and increase power consumption, so chips now need to perform tasks in an efficient way to minimise the amount of energy they consume. Swope argued that focusing on performance-per-watt does not take this into account. Software developers can minimise power consumption by reducing the number of times that applications have to fetch data from a network, and features such as AMT and VT may be able to help in this regard.

These new desktops mark a return to enterprise excellence for Intel, which will be a tough act for AMD to follow. Now that it is starting to address the issue of energy efficiency, Intel could reassert its position as market leader.

Intel has been touring the region as part of its 'Connect' series of Inter Channel Conferences, and recently held a developer conference in Egypt as part of its efforts to introduce its new desktop to the local market. Time will tell whether vPro meets Middle Eastern needs.||**||

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