The long road to Conroe

The empire strikes back

13 March 2006: IDF Spring 2006: Will Intel's Core Microarchitecture close the technology gap?

To make Core Microarchitecture deliver on its performance promises, it had to be able to split its instruction sequences out of order in such a way that it didn't physically generate heat in doing so. This was a monumental task, the scope of which was finally revealed at last March's IDF:

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Core Micro Architecture is an out-of-order design with which individual instructions are scheduled and staggered in a 14-stage pipeline. In order to increase instruction efficiency, Intel focused on improving the flexible instruction execution. While that sounds easy, it conflicts with the requirements of IA machines to have a clean memory ordering for the sake of adhering to program semantics. One easy example is that store operations need to be completed prior to loading data, because you would want to access the current (latest) dataset.

Executing more instructions at the same time was also achieved within the three ALUs (Arithmetical Logical Unit), which can process SSE instructions in a single cycle (128 bit wide SSE). In addition to that, L2 cache improvements, thanks to the shared design as well as new prefetchers that work on the basis of memory disambiguation (prefetch data that is not going to be modified by other queued instructions), help to feed the pipeline more efficiently.

7 May 2006: Intel's Conroe, Merom get a name: Core 2 Duo

In another break with the past, Intel didn't make up a new word for its official brand names. Besides, after "Pentium," could the company really risk "Sexium?"

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The new processor name builds on the Core brand, which was introduced with the current "Core Duo" mobile processor generation in January of this year. According to the company "Core 2" is a sign for a second generation of "Core" technology, which may be a bit confusing, as the current "Core Solo" and "Core Duo" processors are built on technology that has been carried over from previous "Pentium M" processors and the new "Core 2" generation is built on a completely new architecture (which is named "Core" as well.)

14 July 2006: Tom's Hardware: Core 2 Duo smokes AMD's Athlon 64 X2

The first sign of vindication for Intel's strategy came just two weeks ago, with the confirmation from Tom's test engineers that Core 2 Duo had absolutely reclaimed the performance crown from AMD, and not by a hair or half a car length either.

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Performance jumps drastically in some scenarios: For example, the chip breaks the 3000-point barrier in the CPU test of 3DMark06 for the very first time, approaches 9000 points in the CPU test of PCMark05 and almost 32,000 points in the SiSoft Sandra 2007 CPU Test - 58% more than AMD's fastest processor at 2.8 GHz.

Especially interesting is the way how Intel achieves this new level of processor performance. Tom's Hardware found that its Conroe system consumed less power than a comparable AMD system and up to 30% less power than a Pentium EE 965-based computer. The 18% clock speed increase of the overclocked version resulted in a relatively modest 7% increase in overall system power consumption.

AMD's challenge has been met, and in indisputable terms has been exceeded. The fact that AMD didn't meet Intel's performance challenge response day-and-date, in the manner of its all-out assaults at IDF, leaves some observers puzzled. But even the worst-case scenarios from analysts characterize AMD as down, but not out. AMD is a company whose architecture is designed to respond to change, and its response could be huge. If it isn't, just that fact alone will itself be huge. At any rate, this duel is far from over.

Complete coverage:
TG Daily interviews Intel: "Core is changing the game"
Intel is back: Core 2 Duo launches
Up to $16,000: Core 2 Duo computers flood the Net
Official: Intel releases Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Extreme
Tom's Hardware: Core 2 Duo smokes AMD's Athlon 64 X2
Intel to launch Merom, Conroe on Thursday
Four AMD dual-core prices now at or near Intel price/performance curve
Technology Background: Will Intel's Core Architecture Close the Technology Gap? (Tom's Hardware)

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