Intel pounds a new nail in chip-frequency coffin

SAN JOSE, Calif.--If there was any doubt that a chip's clock frequency is no longer the preeminent measure of the chip's worth, a senior Intel chip designer put the idea to rest Tuesday.

"We're not focused on gigahertz at all," Dileep Bandarkar, architect at large in Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said in a speech at the Fall Processor Forum here. Performance matters, but only within the context of power consumption, and clock speed is just one way of boosting performance for the company's server chip lines, Xeon and Itanium, he said.

"It's about delivered performance. Frequency doesn't really matter," Bandarkar said. "With Itanium, frequency has not been a major thing. We've focused on performance on server benchmarks--TPC-C, TPC-H, SAP. We never had that same megahertz mania on the Itanium line. Now, even on the Xeon line, megahertz is just one of the ways of doing more performance. If I can get the same performance on flat megahertz or even down, that's OK."

That's position contrasted sharply with IBM's. Brad McCredie, chief architect of IBM's Power6 processor, had to restrain himself from boasting that the new server chip is performing at the high end of the company's promised 4GHz to 5GHz range.

"We're coming in above target, and we'll be delivering some very nice frequencies next year," McCredie said.

Intel has been publicly stepping away from clock frequency since 2004, but the internal discussion has been going on longer than that.

"I gave a talk 10 years ago at Gartner that frequency doesn't matter," Bandarkar said, then quipped, "Nobody in Intel management saw it so they didn't fire me at the time."

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