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Banias and the risk for Intel

Mooly Eden: A look into the origins of Core 2 Duo
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TG Daily: What you effectively did, was putting the Gigahertz machine in reverse. From a world that seemingly was driven, at least inside Intel, only by Gigahertz, you told people to throw out the foundation of their marketing strategy. How much of a risk was it?

Mooly Eden: It was a huge risk for the IDC. Banias market came just after Timna had been canceled [Timna was the codename for an integrated processor designed for the entry-level market and originally scheduled for the second half of 2000 - ed]. We had worked on Timna for two years and needed to make sure that we didn't get another project canceled. In such a case, the company may lose confidence in the development center. And worse than this, the people may lose confidence in themselves. But the biggest risk in this industry is not to take risks, because then you are doomed. If you want to play it safe, you are out of the game.

TG Daily: I would imagine that your idea to cut clock speed in half wasn't very well received at your first presentation to C-level executives. I remember a briefing of Pat Gelsinger, in which he outlined a vision that CPUs may reach 20 GHz by 2009 and that such processors could be compared to small nuclear power plants. And there you are with a chip that goes into the other direction. What was the reaction of engineers and marketing to your first presentation of Banias?

Mooly Eden: Pat Gelsinger was actually one of the first people at Intel who figured out that the Gigahertz outlook would not be good thing. He said that we have to return, because we were running into a power wall. You can blame many people for the increase in Gigahertz and power consumption, but definitely not Pat.

At the very early stage, Pat was advocating exactly the same thing what we were doing. We did that almost in parallel. But, of course, and without saying names, there were other people who felt that a lower clock speed was too risky and they did not support the idea. In the very beginning, when we talked to people about our project, the first question we got was "what's the frequency?" We replied "1.6 GHz" and got a "not interesting." It was definitely not easy to push it through.

I do not want people to be misled: Frequency was the right thing to do at the time. It gave you more performance and we had enough headroom.

Die shot of the Pentium M processor. This picture shows the second-generation Pentium M (90 nm "Dothan" core.)

TG Daily: Who do you think was most essential in getting a green light for Banias?

Mooly Eden: There are several stages you need to look at. First, you have the development stage, where people aren't aware of the chip. The development is creating it and we are seeing where we are getting to. But after that, you need approval to move forward and you do not get anywhere without the CEO on your side. You can't continue, because it is a risk for Intel. For Banias, we got the support of all executives. Paul Otellini also embraced Banias.

TG Daily: Do you think that Banias will be remembered as the CPU that changed Intel?

Mooly Eden: I would say that Banias will be remembered as the product that brought Intel on the right track. Moving to low power was inevitable. I am proud that we have been in the position of developing it. But overall, I believe that Banias will be remembered as one of the products that changed Intel. If you look at the company, then the 4004 changed Intel, the 8086 did and the 386 did. I would be flattered, if Banias was remembered as one of the milestones that put Intel in a leadership position.

TG Daily: Intel introduced its first power-saving technology - Speedstep - back in January 2000, in fact just one day before Transmeta unveiled its Crusoe processor. There are people who claim that Intel may never have come up with a power saving technology without Transmeta being the one who discovered the trend. Now Intel is making a turnaround largely because of the pressure it received from AMD. Is Intel a company that now and then needs a step on its toes to see trends?

Mooly Eden: I was not in the U.S. at the time frame when Speedstep was introduced. But I would not be surprised, if this was started way, way before. You need to work with many parties, including Microsoft, to do something like that. Take, for example, the Yonah dual-core. We started with that project many years ago; way before anybody ever spoke about it. So, do we need somebody to step on our toes? Hopefully not. Is competition accelerating innovation? Yes. Competition is good. I am not afraid of competition. The only thing I need to make sure is that the competition is behind us.