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Intel: Hyperthreading to speed desktops

During his keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum, President Paul Otellini says "hyperthreading" will boost chip performance and a technology called LaGrande will keep data secure.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Intel will bring the performance-enhancing server technology known as hyperthreading to the desktop later this year, and plans to introduce technology in 2003 for securing data on hard drives.

The two announcements were the highlights of the opening keynote speech by company president Paul Otellini at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif.

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Despite the downturn in the PC market, the company will continue to boost chip performance and add features with the double goal of enhancing the PC experience and gaining an edge over rival Advanced Micro Devices.

"There's no doubt it gives us a competitive advantage, but it also gives us a market advantage" by expanding the capabilities of PCs, Otellini said in a briefing held before the speech.

Hyperthreading will appear in the 3GHz Pentium 4 for desktops, due later in the quarter. The technology allows different elements of the chip, such as the integer unit for graphics processing and the floating-point unit for complex calculations, to be active at the same time.

By multitasking in this manner, chip performance can be boosted by 25 percent to 30 percent, Otellini said. It's a free performance boost, he added, because the circuitry to enable hyperthreading is already inside the Pentium 4.

Software applications must be tuned to take full advantage of hyperthreading, and some such programs--Adobe Photoshop and Windows Media Encoder 9, for example--are available or coming to market now. But even applications that aren't tuned, such as Microsoft Outlook, will see a partial boost because the technology will let the chip run two functions from Outlook at the same time, Otellini said. Windows XP and 2000 are already hyperthreaded, he added.

For speed freaks, Otellini also demonstrated a 4.5GHz Pentium 4 processor onstage. He was able to rev the chip to 4.7GHz before the machine konked out and offered up a blue screen.

Keeping data safe
In the second half of 2003, Intel will introduce LaGrande, a security technology that prevents hackers or viruses from obtaining or corrupting data in a PC.

"This will minimize the ability of people to steal your credit card number or break into your hard drive to snoop," Otellini said. "Protecting users' data, protecting users' identity, protecting transactions are all on the list of things we want to do."

LaGrande places a secure wrapper around selected hard-drive data, as well as around the keyboard, the display and the interconnects inside the computer, said an Intel representative. Currently, data that gets sent to commerce sites is encrypted while traveling between a PC and a server. But once it's back on a hard drive, it reverts to its original form, making it valuable if it can be stolen.

Conceptually, LaGrande is similar to IBM's RapidRestore, a feature on IBM notebooks that lets users store applications and data behind a secure partition on the hard drive. The technology, though, will have other functions. It is possible to use it in conjunction with digital rights management programs, such as Microsoft's Palladium, to prevent piracy, which in turn could help promote legal entertainment downloads.

Otellini said users will be able to turn LaGrande off. "It will be opt in," he said.

LaGrande will make its initial appearance in Prescott, Intel's next generation of desktop chips, coming in the second half of this year.

Although LaGrande sounds useful, Intel could have a difficult time getting support for it, especially from Microsoft.

"Just like Microsoft eventually integrated signal processing into Windows, they will eventually integrate security processing, and they will do it on their own time," said Peter Glaskowsky, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report, an industry newsletter. "Intel needs to work with these things with Microsoft from the beginning."

Glaskowsky compared the effort to Native Signal Processing, a chip technology that Intel tried to popularize in the early '90s. Microsoft was strongly opposed to the effort and cajoled other developers not to support it. Eventually, Intel dropped it.

"I call this native security processing," said Glaskowsky.

Market woes continue
Otellini reiterated that the PC market remains slow. The U.S. market is showing few signs of optimism, with consumers more worried about their jobs and the future than getting a new PC, he said. Corporate purchases currently revolve around replacing dead machines. Still, those replacement numbers can add up. There are currently around 500 million PCs in active use today, he said.

Despite the recent slowdown in the Asia-Pacific region, the area will still likely drive Intel's sales. "Until this quarter, we've had seven consecutive record quarters in Asia-Pacific," Otellini said.

As expected, Otellini also showed off computers from NEC running Madison, the codename of the next version of its Itanium processor, which is scheduled for release next year. Madison will outperform the current Itanium II by 30 percent at launch, he promised.

"This chip is about a half a billion transistors," Otellini said. Itanium II contains around 220 million transistors, according to Intel. Hewlett-Packard, which codeveloped the Itanium architecture, is also heavily involved in creating Madison, he added.

Sales of Madison, while slightly lagging, should occur in greater volumes than Itanium II "by definition," Otellini said. So far, few Itanium II servers have shipped to the marketplace.

Otellini also demonstrated Banias, a new notebook chip coming in the first quarter of next year. Banias notebooks will provide longer battery life than standard Pentium notebooks and come with integrated 802.11a and b wireless technology, he said. Sources say Banias will run at 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz and 1.6GHz, and possibly also at 1.3GHz, at launch.

Upon the release of Banias, Intel will introduce a module containing both 802.11a and b wireless chips designed for use in notebooks and desktops. Pre-packaging the chips in a module will help ease adoption, say sources, because motherboard makers will only have to make one, rather than a variety, of boards to accommodate the module. Notebook users also won't have to worry as much about wireless standards.