In case you haven't noticed, multi-core processing has taken hold and the race is on to cram more cores onto a single die. But assuming developers can keep up, at some point, chip manufacturers are going to have address a potential major problem that could make adding more cores a useless endeavor. More specifically, a "memory wall" looms large in the not too distant future that, as Jon Stokes from ArsTechnica puts it, could make more than 16 cores pointless.
The problem stems from memory bandwidth not being able to keep pace with faster processors, whether those speed bumps come from a faster frequency or more cores. Put simply, memory is creating a bottleneck and can't feed the processor fast enough, a problem that has existed for some time. Intel and AMD have been able to mask the problem by adding more cache, but doing so doesn't overcome the memory wall, which looks poised to really rear its ugly head as more cores are piled on to new chip packages.
"Engineers at Sandia National Laboratories, in New Mexico, have simulated future high-performance computers containing the 8-core, 16‑core, and 32-core microprocessors that chip makers say are the future of the industry," writes Samuel K. Moore at IEEE Spectrum Online. "The results are distressing. Because of limited memory bandwidth and memory-management schemes that are poorly suited to supercomputers, the performance of these machines would level off or even decline with more cores."
Hit the jump to find out what solutions are being proposed.
According to VIA's recently revealed processor roadmap, the company will begin mass producing dual-core Nano CPUs in June of 2010. The late entry would appear to give Intel a significant head start, as the chip maker has already launched its dual-core Atom 330 CPU. But unlike Intel's chip, VIA's dual-core Nano will zero in on both netbooks (notebooks) and nettops (desktops) instead of strictly nettops.
However, Intel might still beat VIA to the punch with Pineview, the company's dual-core Atom part with an integrated graphics solution. That is, if Intel makes the new chip available for netbooks. If not, Intel would be leaving the door open for VIA to step in as the only one to offer a dual-core solution for the uber popular netbook sector. Moreover, despite Nano's lack of penetration thus far, benchmarks typically show the chip outpacing Intel's Atom, albeit while also consuming more power.
Meanwhile, it seems nobody knows exactly what AMD has planned. The chip maker previously announced it was skipping the netbook market, but at the same time would target mini-notebooks. Should the markets overlap, or if AMD has a competitive change of heart, it could make for an interesting three-way battle royal.
Intel has released a new mainstream Core 2 Quad processor in the Q8300. The new 45nm chip comes clocked at 2.5GHz on a 1333MHz front side bus just like the Q9300, but with 4MB of L2 cache instead of 6MB. Look for the chip to sell for around $224.
The new CPU will also likely mark the end of the line for Intel's Core 2 Quad lineup, at least for the immediate future. Of course, Intel will continue to make quad-core processors, just not for the suddenly defunct Core 2 platform. Instead, the company appears to moving all of its efforts to Core i7 and, as Stanley Huang, director of marketing and technical services of Intel's Asia Pacific division said in a statement, boosting Centrino 2's penetration rate.
Huang also reaffirmed that the company's Calpella platform is on schedule despite rumors that it might be delayed for a 2010 launch.
If your graphics card doesn't support DirectX 10 or 10.1, don't worry about it, Microsoft has your back. The resourceful programmers at Redmond are working on a new component called WARP10 (Windows Advanced Rasterization Platform) to be included in Windows 7, which essentially ports DX10 duties to the CPU.
The upshot is that everyone will have access to DX10 eye candy even if the hardware doesn't support it. Minimum requirements for WARP10 are the same as they are for Vista - an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM. So if you have the hardware to run Windows 7, then in theory, you should be able to enable advanced effects regardless of your videocard.
"Our primary goal during WARP10 development was to produce a rasterizer that met or exceeded all the precision and conformance requirements of the Direct3D 10 and 10.1 specifications," writes Andy Glaister, Principal Development Lead of Microsoft Desktop and Graphics Technologies. "We wanted to do this while achieving a high level or reliability and stability. If this rasterizer was going to be used as a fallback for when hardware was not functioning, it’s important that it worked in all scenarios, configurations and different types of machines."
Hit the jump to find out how WARP10 compares to integrated graphics.
Forget about chocolate, flowers, or diamonds, because the real buying decision come Valentine's Day will be what processor to indulge in. It's no stretch to say the entire tech world will remain infatuated with Intel's Core i7 platform by the time February rolls around, but Intel won't be the only one trying to woo consumers. According to DigiTimes, motherboard manufacturers are busy preparing for a sextuplet of 45nm quad-core AM3-based CPUs from AMD in February.
Phenom II X4 710 (2.6GHz, 6MB L3 cache)
Phenom II X4 720 (2.8GHz, 6MB L3 cache)
Phenom II X4 805 (2.5GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
Phenom II X4 810 (2.6GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
Phenom II X4 910 (2.6GHz, 6MB L3 cache)
Phenom II X4 925 (2.8GHz, 6MB L3 cache)
The same sources that have been whispering sweet-somethings to DigiTimes also say that AMD will follow up it's busy February release schedule with more 45nm CPUs in April, but they won't be Phenom parts. Instead, look for Athlon-branded chips without the shared L3 cache. Additionally, the chip maker plans to release the quad-core Athlon X4 600 family and tri-core Athlon X3 family at the same time. And if you can wait until June, sources say AMD will introduce it's 45nm dual-core Athlon X2 200 series.
For a long while, Intel's Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor remained a popular choice in the DIY community. The 2.4GHz chip, helped in part by an aggressive round of price-cuts, brought quad-core computing to the mainstream. It became even more popular when Intel released the G0 stepping, which ushered in lower temps and higher overclocking potential.
But there's no looking in the rear-view mirror for Intel, and with the chip maker's Core i7 stepping into the limelight, it's come time to retire the aging 65nm Q6600. Citing un-named sources at PC vendors, DigiTimes reports that Intel plans to phase out the vintage quad-core chip in Q1 2009 by issuing a product discontinuance notice.
The Q6600's impending end-of-life could come as good news to those in need of a quad-core upgrade while remaining fiscally responsible. In all likelihood, vendors will again cut the Q6600's price as they look to clear out inventory before the end of the year. Stocking stuffer, perhaps?
AMD's first Phenom debut failed to live up to the pre-release hype, so the chip maker is gearing up to give it another go-round with Phenom II, otherwise known as Deneb. The official launch for Phenom's second act won't take place until January, 2009, but AMD recently invited several members of the press to its Austin, Texas headquarters to see the upcoming chip in action.
While there, attendees watched as AMD demoed Phenom II being overclocked on a variety of cooling solutions, including air, water, phase change refrigeration, and the mother of them all, Liquid Nitrogen. According to HotHardware, the Phenom II X4 danced around 4GHz at 1.55V on air with 32C temps, 4GHz+ at 1.6V on water with a 39C core temp, and over 4.4GHz in a Vapochill setup. But when doused with LN2, HotHardware says the Phenom II X4 on display ran stable at over 5GHz and booted (but not stable) at over 6GHz.
While few are equipped with or even care about LN2 cooling, breaching 4GHz on air with manageable temps bodes well for AMD's next chip release. If AMD's upcoming 45nm CPUs have the headroom to reach 4GHz and beyond, it might stand a chance next to Intel's recently released Core i7.
With all the attention netbooks and nettops have been getting lately, it would appear that small form factor (SFF) and all-in-one PCs are getting lost in the shuffle. That won't be the case for long, as according to DigiTimes' un-named sources at PC vendors, Intel is gearing up to launch three new 65W low-power quad-core CPUs specifically for these two market segments.
From a specification standpoint, the new chips will be identical to existing CPUs with the same model number, but the TDP drops from 95W down to 65W. Vendors said to already be on board include Apple, Acer, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, with Asus still mulling it over. But because the chips won't come gimped, the lower power draw could also make them popular choices for users with standard desktop setups concerned about heat management.
Pricing for the Q8200s, Q9400s, and Q9550s will sit at $245, $320, and $369 respectively for thousand-unit tray quantities.
Holy high core count, Batman, Microsoft's upcoming Windows Server 2008 R2, the second revision to the server OS released last year, will support up to 256 logical cores. Logical processors equate to the number of physical processors times the number of cores and threads per core, so 256 logical cores translates into 64 dual-core processors with two threads per core, or 32 quad-core chips with two threads per core.
The new release, which will be based on Windows 7 code-base and contain a good bit of Vista DNA, manages to scale as high as it does by breaking the dispatcher lock in Windows. The dispatcher lock isn't a big issue for systems with up to 8 cores, but as the core-count goes up, Windows threads end up waiting for the dispatcher lock to green-light the cores. To get around this, two more wait states have been added to replace the global dispatcher lock of old so that those threads are no longer stuck waiting. Mark Russinovich, Technical Fellow in Microsoft's Core OS division, details the process in a 45-minute video interview on Microsoft's Chanel 9 website.
While Intel's Atom chip has been finding its way into nearly every netbook release, AMD has been playing it conservative by taking a wait-and-see approach. At this point, it's not hard to see that netbooks are here to stay, and AMD finally looks ready to capatilize on one of the hottest tech fads of the year.
According to AMD's updated processor roadmap, the chip maker is primed to target mini-notebooks and netbooks with a pair of new processors called Caspian and Conesus. Both are 45nm parts and built using the same architecture as the company's just-released Shanghai chip and both will be dual-core parts with an integrated DDR2 memory controller.
Caspian, which will find its way into ultraportables, will come with 2MB of cache compared to 1MB on Conesus. The latter will also utilize a BGA package so that it can fit into the limited space netbooks afford. Even still, AMD chief executive Dirk Meyer contends that netbooks aren't going to be the company's focus.
"First order, we're ignoring the netbook phenomenon," Meyer said, "concentrating on PC notebooks above that form factor.
Huh? Randy Allen, the senior VP of AMD's Computation Solutions Group, clarified Meyer's curious statement by saying AMD will cede part of the netbook market to Intel, particularly Mobile Internet Devices. "We won't be going to the bottom where Atom is going," Allen said. Allen further stated that customers of the Yukon netbook market don't want a "compromised PC exeprience."