First Intel next-gen news: Lower wattage, fewer pipeline stages

San Francisco (CA) - In his first keynote address to the Intel Developers' Forum as Chief Executive Officer of the company, Paul Otellini confirmed this morning his company is shifting away from the NetBurst architecture that distinguished Pentium 4, to a new architecture that emphasizes power conservation over raw performance.

Otellini formally announced three new Pentium multicore architectures reportedly developed by Intel's Israel Design Center - the team responsible for the highly-successful Pentium M, credited for winning over Apple Computer as a customer. The new Merom architecture, analysts believe, is the blueprint for this trio, marking the first time Intel has used a mobile processor architecture to create derivatives for its desktop and server lines. Conroe, however, will be the name most often cited, representing the traditional desktop product line, while Woodcrest assumes the mantle for the server line.

Though Intel described this keynote speech as a "public demonstration" of the next-generation Pentium trio, Otellini would not divulge architectural details nor any marketing specifics, such as what the production units would end up being called. Instead, he presented a set of power consumption targets - the class of numbers that may, from this point on, replace megahertz as the measure of relative performance, at least for Intel. By the end of 2006, Otellini stated, Conroe processors would achieve a power consumption target of 65 watts, or 32.5 watts per core in a dual-core configuration.

Otellini also set forth a power consumption target for the server line of 80 watts, using a design technology he referred to as "thermal design power." He added that certain low-voltage processors may achieve power targets of 5 watts, with a new category of processors for handtops consuming as low as 0.5 watts. Otellini did not say more about handtop processors, which is generally outside of Pentium territory.

In keeping with the company's tradition of providing long-range performance goals, Otellini promised that Intel processors would achieve ten times greater performance by the end of this decade. He said Merom processors would achieve three times greater performance than the first "Banias" Pentium M processors of 2003; and that Conroe would achieve five times greater performance over the 90 nm "Northwood" Pentium 4s introduced in 2002, and twice the performance of this year's "Smithfield" Pentium D. But Otellini carefully couched those multipliers in the context of "performance-perwatt ," leading some to question whether the company has not only thrown out megahertz as a measure of performance, but speed along with it.

"We will deliver 'factor of 10' breakthroughs to a variety of platforms that can reduce energy consumption tenfold or bring 10 times the performance of today's products," said Otellini, making apparent by his careful use of the term "or" a kind of fulcrum that will represent the tradeoff between consumption and speed, in future assessments of Intel CPU performance.

UPDATE 11:05 am PT: In a post-keynote briefing to reporters, Intel vice president for the Digital Enterprise Group, Stephen Smith, provided some further details about the new architecture. He said Conroe's core may be given as few as 14 pipeline stages, as opposed to Pentium 4's current 31. He also said Conroe may, possibly, take on as many as four cores by early 2008, though no formal decision has been reached. When pressed about cache size, Smith indicated a possible 8 Mb cache for Conroe, but again, would not officially confirm.

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