Intel expands core concept for chips

If two processor cores are better than one, the chip giant figures four, eight and even hundreds must be better still.

Intel plans to release chips with two processing cores next year, but that's just the start.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant intends to exploit the concept of using multiple processor cores--the part of the microprocessor that does the math--as a way to increase performance of its chips during the next few years.

Chips with four cores and eight cores will eventually join dual-core chips. The company's research department is also looking at the feasibility of creating chips with hundreds of cores to assist servers and supercomputers with large numbers of relatively repetitive calculations, said Steve Smith, vice president of the desktop platforms group at Intel.

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What's new:
Intel is turning its attention to chips with two processor cores--and more.

Bottom line:
Multiple cores are a way to get more performance without big boosts in power consumption. But Intel's not alone--AMD and others are heading that way, too. One company even plans a 96-core chip.

More stories on chip cores

The focus on multiple cores arises from Moore's Law, which dictates that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. In the past, the extra transistors have been used to increase the size of the cache, an integrated pool of memory for rapid data access, or to boost other performance-enhancing features, such as instruction-level parallelism, which lets a chip do more than one task per clock cycle.

However, Intel is now employing the extra transistors to create additional cores to boost performance, a measure it says it can take without drastically increasing chips' power consumption. Power consumption was among the reasons that Intel shifted to the dual-core strategy and canceled Tejas, a high-speed, single-core successor to the Pentium 4. Continuing the trend of quickly upping its processors' clock speeds would have eventually boosted their power consumption above practical levels, Intel has said.

"We're doing (dual-core chips) because we believe it's a more efficient way to use our transistor budget," Smith said.

One of the key areas where consumers may notice the dual-core difference will likely come when they run two or more applications, Smith said. With two cores, a consumer can edit a movie from a digital video camera in the background or record a television show using a personal video recorder setup--while surfing the Web, sending e-mail and performing other tasks.

Intel isn't the only chipmaker expecting twins. Nearly every processor company has multiple-core plans. IBM has been selling dual-core chips for servers for a few years, while ARM sells dual-core chips for cell phones. Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices has said it will create chips with two, four and eight cores, too. Its first dual-core chip will also come out in 2005.

Meanwhile, ClearSpeed has developed a 96-core chip for augmenting supercomputers, similar to chips from Japan's RIKEN and others. Nonetheless, Intel is the world's largest chipmaker, so the vast majority of the population will experience dual-core computing through its products.

"This will be looked back upon in 10 years as the beginning

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