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Despite new efforts, desktops still a focus

Feb 20, 20034 mins
Computers and PeripheralsMobileSmall and Medium Business

Intel’s recent developer conferences have focussed overwhelmingly on the convergence of mobile computing and communications, but the chip-maker is still working hard to improve desktop PC performance for users, an Intel executive said Wednesday at the Spring Intel Developer Forum.

A portion of Wednesday’s keynote address here was about desktop PCs, but the majority concerned Centrino and Manitoba, Intel’s upcoming processors for notebooks and “smart” cellular phones. But that doesn’t mean the company isn’t working hard to improve its desktop chips as well, said Bill Siu vice president and general manager of Intel’s desktop platforms group.

A 3.2 GHz desktop Pentium 4 processor will be released later this year, Siu said, followed later by Prescott, Intel’s first chip to be manufactured on its 90-nanometer process.

Prescott will be “a significant makeover” of the existing Pentium 4, and come with 1M byte of Level 2 cache, double that of the current Pentium 4, he said. Intel has developed 13 new “instructions” for Prescott that aim to improve the performance of video encoding and applications that require strong floating-point performance, he said.

Improvements were also made to Intel’s hyperthreading technology for the Prescott chip, Siu said. Hyperthreading allows a single processor to simultaneously execute multiple threads. It provides a noticeable performance benefit for software written with multiple threads, but also improves the performance of single-threaded applications, according to Siu.

Hyperthreading will be rolled out for progressively lower speed processors going forward, he said, declining to specify when. Hyperthreading is currently available only in the 3.06 GHz Pentium 4 processor and in Intel’s Xeon server chips.

In his keynote address, Louis Burns, who like Siu is a vice president and general manager with Intel’s desktop platforms group, addressed the landscape beyond Prescott, touching briefly on a chip known as Tejas. Burns and Siu declined to provide details on Tejas, but it will be a makeover of Prescott, Siu said.

The rush to provide mobile processors with integrated wireless connectivity will also help to advance the desktop side, leading to built-in wireless capability for most desktops in the future, Siu said. The use of the PC as the center of the digital living room will also make wireless connections important, if PCs are to be used for streaming content around the home, he said.

Rival chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is taking a different path from Intel for its future desktop processors. AMD will release its long-awaited 64-bit Athlon64 desktop processor later this year, after Microsoft has put the finishing touches on a 64-bit version of Windows XP for the x86 instruction set. Intel doesn’t see 64-bit technology as relevant to desktop users at this point, Siu said.

“Is this something you’re going to see an immediate benefit from? The time will come, but it’s not obvious to us that that time is now,” he said, citing a lack of 64-bit operating systems and applications for desktop users.

Intel will develop a 64-bit desktop processor when it feels the market is ready for one, but doesn’t expect that to happen anytime soon, Siu said.

Despite promoting the idea that businesses can become more efficient if they upgrade to newer PCs, Intel has yet to see the “groundswell” of corporate customers rushing to upgrade their aging systems, Siu said. However, the Santa Clara chip company is making that upgrade internally, he said.

Analysts and customer surveys have indicated that 2003 may be the year corporations start upgrading computers on a wide scale, replenishing an infrastructure that has lain largely unchanged since the concerns over the 2000 data change, or the so-called Y2K bug. However, Intel has yet to see concrete evidence of a wholesale move to purchase new systems, Siu said.