Brian Dipert - March 16, 2005
Continuing on from IDF Dabblings…..
Note that Intel's plans include both monolithic and multi-die/single-package multi-core processors; the company's walking the profit balancing act here of how much silicon area (i.e. cost) a given feature set would require if done single-die, versus how much revenue that feature set will extract from the marketplace. Also note the emphasis on both 'cores' and 'threads'. It's well known by now that Intel (along with AMD, graphics companies like ATI and Nvidia) spins a single piece of silicon into many marketing proliferations, differing in their front-side bus and core clock rates, support or lack thereof for HyperThreading, cache sizes (though economics dictate that sooner or later a cache-deficient product will get its own design and die, witness Celeron as an example), etc. For example, the key implementation difference between the Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 and Pentium D/Smithfield is that in the latter case, HyperThreading support is disabled.
I'm frankly skeptical of the widespread impact of multi-core, at least in the near term. Why requires a blog post all its own; stay tuned. I'm not skeptical, though, of Intel's ability to create consumer demand even in the absence of true need; too many past examples of the company's marketing muscle (aided by the Blue Man Group, dancing fab workers, etc) exist. And Intel's got plenty of compatriots in this effort; AMD is cranking up its own multi-core marketing campaign, and it appears that dual-core CPUs will soon appear in Apple's hardware, too (along with two-button mice….tee hee!). I've been wondering if Intel was going to rebrand HyperThreading within its dual-core effort, and Cedar Mill appears to bear out that prediction; it's a single-core entry-level 65 nm CPU with HyperThreading support.
Intel's ideas on virtualization (formerly code-named Vanderpool) are pretty interesting. By adding hardware hooks both to and outside the CPU, and enabling support for those hooks in operating systems and applications, three main interrelated usage scenarios are possible:
1)Concurrently running multiple different operating systems and application suites on a single hardware platform
2)Running a configuration and monitoring routine that operates outside of the O/S and enables IT control and management of individual client PCs (for example) and
3)Running multiple iterations of a single operating system and application suite, one per user, such that a spyware or virus infestation of one home user's image (for example) won't bring down other users' configurations
The last scenario is ironic, because Microsoft has had multiple-user support in the last few iterations of its operating systems, most robustly implemented in Windows 2000 and Windows XP. However, applications' insistence on being installed and run while the O/S is in Administrator mode, versus the safer Limited mode, has defeated the intent of the feature.
I could go on and on….but I won't, dear blogees, because I hear some of you snoring. Regarding virtualization, I'll wrap up for now by sharing one especially cool demo I saw, from Transitive. The company's QuickTransit software virtualizes CPU, graphics subsystem and other hardware details, thereby enabling (for example) a PC running Linux to mimic a Silicon Graphics workstation (one of the demos I saw). Virtualization is not a new concept; Digital Equipment's FX!32 technology aimed to allow users to run Windows NT apps on Alpha hardware, my last two laptops were (slowly) powered by Transmeta Crusoe CPUs and their LongRun virtualization routines, and hardware- and O/S-virtualizing Java applications are pervasive nowadays both in PCs and in cell phones.
I've run Virtual PC on my Macs (with limited success….the word 'slowly' again applies, and the lame Windows disk image emulation implementation was either capacity-limiting or tended to quickly gobble up all available HDD space thanks to all those temp files, service packs and patches) and there's a not-yet-used copy of VMware sitting in my garage. With visions of Apple O/S and app suites on Wintel hardware (and visa versa) running through my head, I've keenly monitored the development of CherryOS (which alas, appears to be nothing more than a GPU-violating repackaging of the open source PearPC). And QuickTransit isn't yet ironclad; a company spokesperson attempted with limited success to run The GIMP and other Linux apps under Windows XP for me on his laptop. But when QuickTransit did work, it was impressively fast. Granted, this was a showfloor demo, and your mileage may vary, but this app has genuine potential.
Feedback always welcomed; click on that 'Want to comment on this posting?' link below, ok? Happy Thursday, all………