With the Nehalem architecture, Intel couldn’t resist adding some new items to the already long list of SSE instructions. Nehalem supports SSE 4.2, which has all the instructions supported by Penryn (SSE4.1) and adds seven more. Most of these new instructions are for manipulating character strings, one purpose of which, Intel says, is to speed up the processing of XML files.
The two other instructions are aimed at specific applications; one is POPCNT, which appeared with Barcelona, and is used to count the number of non-zero bits in a register. According to Intel, this instruction is especially useful in voice recognition and DNA sequencing. The last instruction, CRC32, is used for accelerating the calculation of error detection codes.
Power Consumption Under Control
Over and over Intel says that for any potential innovation in one of its new architectures, the engineers weigh performance gains against the impact on power consumption—it’s proof that they’ve learned well from Pentium 4. With the Nehalem architecture, the engineers have gone even farther with techniques for limiting consumption. There’s now a built-in microcontroller—the Power Control Unit—that constantly watches the temperature and power use of the cores and can disable them completely when they’re not being used. Thanks to this technology, the energy consumption of an unused core is next to zero, whereas before Nehalem there were still losses due to leakage currents.
Intel has implemented this in an original way with what it calls a Turbo mode. When the processor is operating below its standard TDP, for example, the Turbo mode increases the frequency of the cores being used, while still keeping within the TDP limit.
Note also that like the Atom processor, Nehalem’s L1 and L2 caches use eight transistors instead of the usual six, which reduces consumption at the cost of a slightly larger die surface.