Sitting pretty

Last week I had the good fortune of being able to attend the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), held for the first time in Beijing, China. For those that haven’t heard of IDF before, it is essentially a technology showcase which, for a techie such as myself, is about as dribble-worthy as it gets. And, what I saw makes me think that AMD has its work cut out…

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  April 23, 2007

|~||~||~|Last week I had the good fortune of being able to attend the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), held for the first time in Beijing, China. For those that haven’t heard of IDF before, it is essentially a technology showcase which, for a techie such as myself, is about as dribble-worthy as it gets. And, what I saw makes me think that AMD has its work cut out… The event, held over three days, drew my gaze towards a number of upcoming products and technologies, all of which suggest to me that Intel is now, quite possibly, at its peak. And with its forthcoming desktop chips, which will soon be available for consumers to buy, Intel looks set to retain its CPU performance crown for the foreseeable future. The Intel engineers and execs I talked to at IDF were all confident that the firm will unleash its updated ‘Core’ architecture based processors (codenamed Penryn), and the supporting ‘Bearlake’ chipset family (which works with forthcoming DDR3 RAM) before the end of this year. Considering I spied running examples of both technologies at the show, and saw these achieve sky-high benchmark test figures when being run on the Penryn chips, I have little reason to doubt their words. For performance junkies and enthusiasts, Penryn is certainly something to look forward to then, as although the test systems I encountered employed far-from-final silicon with only a 12% clock speed advantage over the firm’s current high-end 2.93GHz quad-core CPU, the Penryn processors demonstrated performance advantages as high as 40% in certain test scenarios. In short, a major improvement. (Read our IDF report in the next issue of Windows for more on this). I suspect performance could be even better on the final products, for two reasons: the first is that the final, shipped silicon will have no doubt been fine-tuned by Intel and will thus have far fewer bugs. The second reason is that Bearlake will make use of higher performance DDR3 RAM (the test systems I saw were using current DDR2 memory) and this should help boost overall performance even more. As a performance – or ‘power’ - user myself then, I’m counting the hours, minutes and seconds to quarter three of this year, as this is when the aforementioned kit is scheduled for launch. Of course I haven’t forgotten about AMD’s upcoming ‘Barcelona’ CPUs, but considering AMD is barely even whispering about its product at present, it’s impossible to predict what will happen when it’s finally ready for prime time. Besides the performance potential of Intel’s new processors and the supporting platform (DDR3 RAM included), it was good to know that while performance is going up, power consumption is heading in the opposite direction. In Penryn’s case, this is thanks to Intel’s new 45nm manufacturing process. Such lower voltages mean a CPU will run cooler, which ultimately makes it one very power efficient processor. As far as the platform the processor sits in is concerned, DDR3 memory offers similar benefits, in that it runs at a higher frequency than DDR2 but also requires less voltage. A double whammy of effectiveness, so AMD had better get its skates on if it’s to really claim a chunk of the performance PC market. And all this is just Intel’s developments on the desktop computing front, never mind its mobile PC innovations! (On this front, check out our recent vPro story here. ||**||

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