When we last spoke with Intel, they were prepping their Alderwood and Grantsdale launch. Thousands of reviews and articles later, we got a chance to sit down and talk a bit about how things went and what are some of the things to look forward to in 2005.
1) How does Intel feel in general about the current Alderwood/Grantsdale product, including the Extreme Editions?
We're happy with Extreme Edition. It fills a niche up there in the high-end which is what some people want. To use the analogy of the Lambourgini, a Honda Civic will get you from point A to point B, but the Lambourgini will do so faster and it's something we wanted to offer to our users.
The Grantsdale and Alderwood have been doing quite well for us. On our , it's reported that we're expecting the majority of our chipset shipments to be of those models. In terms of our desktop chipsets, it's doing very well.
2) Was there anything Intel felt was missing technology-wise or did the product launch as planned?
If you look at the launch as a whole, we thought it went real well. We were introducing several major technology changes such as DDR2 and PCI Express. Looking back, we would have liked to have seen items such as DDR2 and PCI Express ramp up a little faster, but that is starting to happen now.
3) Where do you see PCI Express right now? Do you think Intel is still moving full steam ahead with it, or do you think we might see a resurgence in AGP?
We're moving full steam ahead with PCI Express, and both ATI and NVIDIA are in agreement about this. The big advantage of PCI Express over AGP is the bi-directional bus, though right now most applications aren't saturating it which is why a straight side-by-side comparison between AGP and PCI Express does not show much of a performance difference. This will change with future applications, especially on the multimedia side of things when PVRs and high definition video come into play.
Imagine if somebody setup a PC based TiVO, they can be recording two high definition streams which is where the bi-directional technology can provide a major benefit.
PCI Express is also what made SLI (NVIDIA's Scalable Link Interface) possible, and we see that as something that will be very popular among enthusiasts and our team is going to continue developing what we feel will help push that.
Editor's Note: This is in line with what ATI have stated to us last July when we visited their headquarters. Particularly with their AIW and TV tuning products, PCI Express will allow them to do more with their products, especially as HDTV becomes more mainstream.
4) Out of the new technologies Intel introduced since the launch of the 915 and 925, what do you think made the biggest impact?
There isn't any one item, but rather it's the fact that we were able to get everything to work at the same time. If you look at the combination of DDR2, PCI Express, Matrix RAID, and HD Audio and how we got it all to work, we were months ahead of the industry. Hardware and firmware are only parts of the solution, as driver development was another accomplishment we were pleased with. It's the culmination of a lot of effort that allowed mainstream press such as Popular Science to acknowledge our contributions to the industry.
What some people do is look at the raw, sheer performance numbers today, and say "Well, we have 2% here, 5% here and maybe 10% max here," but it's not just about performance with today's apps. You need to look into the future, and scalability and see how today's changes will help tomorrow's computing.
5) Which technology do you think is the most underrated or misunderstood?
We feel that DDR2 is something that may not have gotten a fair shake among tech publications. It's gotten some flack, but it was meant to be a scalable architecture that will allow higher frequencies and more performance as we move forward. One benefit that has been overlooked is the lower power consumption that allows OEMs more flexibility in building systems and boards.
High definition audio is something a lot of OEMs are placing on their boards, but you do not hear too many people talking about it. The HD audio essentially replaces a $50 to $80 discreet sound card, and is a nice feature that we're happy with as well.
6) In layman's terms, what are the benefits of the Dual Core CPU design?
If we look at what people do on a day-to-day basis, there is a lot of parallel processing going on. Most users may not realize it, but they are doing quite a bit of multitasking such as having an Internet browser up, as well as a chat client, virus scanner and some kind of productivity software running.
A dual core processor will provide some benefit in those scenarios as it takes Hyper-Threading to the next level by giving each core its own dedicated resources, such as its own L1, L2, Floating-Point and so forth.
So, it appears that the dual core architecture may not be much faster than a single core CPU (clock speeds being equal) if we're running a benchmark such as Doom 3?
That's right. If the application is not threaded, it will not see benefits from Dual Core. However, if the OS is threaded and it's running two non-threaded applications, we'll see some improvements as compared to a single core design. Say you have a virus scanner running and you open a 20MB PowerPoint presentation, a dual core CPU will do so much more efficiently.
Dual core is also what we call "Capacity Neutral". A lot of financial analysts were saying, "Well, it's dual core on one die, so you're doubling your size. That means your profits will go way down by doubling the die size of everything."
As it turns out, there are two 1MB L2 caches, and not two 2MB L2 caches, so that helps a bit on the die size. Our 90nm design is quite robust and we moved over to that quite well. Therefore, the move from single to dual core is within the budget we typically have whenever we release a new processor generation.
For example, the move from Pentium to Pentium II and Pentium II to Pentium III increased the die sizes by a certain amount and there was a budget assigned to those increases. The move to dual core will fit will not cause our capacity to drop by 50%, and will be budgeted along the lines as past generations. This is why we call it Capacity Neutral.
7) Will the Alderwood/Grantsdale motherboards of today expected to work with the new processors, or will a new socket format and chipset emerge when the CPUs are ready?
The CPU will still stay in the same socket format (LGA775), and there will be new chipsets and boards for the new core. At this time, the state of Alderwood and Grantsdale support of the dual core is TBD.
8) Will air cooling still a viable cooling method for 2005 CPUs?
Yes, we think air cooling is still a viable cooling method, at least for the mainstream parts. Dual core still fits within our 2005 guidance for thermals and is well within our thermal specs given out to OEM and motherboard makers.
9) One of the criticisms about the Prescott CPUs is the heat output. Has Intel thought about a different cooling solution or even redesigning CPU's thermal properties?
Everyone wants more power and performance, but this dissipates more heat which people aren't very pleased with. However, we have made some advancements in the latest stepping of Prescott. We have an enhanced halt state and a new thermal monitor mechanism in the CPU. At idle, we're seeing 10 - 15°C cooler performance, and we're continuously looking for ways to improve the processor.
Later in Q1 2005, we'll be seeing new Prescotts (2MB L2 and 64-bit technology) featuring Enhanced SpeedStep, which will be similar to what we see in the mobile processors. It will allow the OS to intelligently throttle the speed based on the CPU load, but at the same time, our performance engineers have been very careful to make sure no raw performance is lost for the users. Basically, they are not looking to handicap the performance just to stay cool.
10) What kind of effect does Intel think BTX will have on the consumer market? Is ATX on the way out?
We had a big launch back a few months in Taipei with all our BTX launch partners. We think it's really important as systems become more powerful, demanding more power consumption and generating more heat. That's not just from the CPU, but also from your graphics, memory, and hard drives.
BTX takes a more system level view of how to get this heat out of the system. We think this is a big step forward, not only for cooling CPUs but for cooling the entire system. Right now, many systems take a rather unorganized route of cooling systems. We have fans placed at haphazard angles, blowing air everywhere. The video card fan may be blowing hot air into adjacent PCI slots, while the CPU fan is drawing warm air rising from the rear of the video card. BTX takes a more intelligent approach to all this and should be much more efficient.
It's not the holy grail of building a silent PC as that will be an OEM and system integrator decision. There will be silent BTX solutions, and there will be loud ones. Same goes for ATX, but BTX will make it easier to do so.
ATX and BTX will coexist from a chipset and motherboard design for at least this year, though it will probably take a few years for this to fully transition. ATX is so entrenched for over a decade, that board, chassis, and PSU manufacturers will need to take some time retooling their factories. We're talking about costs of millions of dollars, and this isn't something that is going to happen overnight.
Therefore, at least for this year, there will be some overlap, and come 2006, we can start thinking about BTX taking more control.
Thanks for the time!
Final Words: We'd like to thank Dan for taking the time to answer our inquiries today, and for being so candid in his responses. If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.