Intel gives 'turbo' boost to Nehalem

Chipmaker unveils power control feature in its new microarchitecture, which a senior executive claims will be "pretty compelling" for enterprises.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--Intel unveiled Tuesday a new aspect of its upcoming microprocessor architecture, which promises better power management and efficiency.

Speaking in the afternoon keynote on day one of the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) at the Moscone Center West, Pat Gelsinger, Intel's senior vice president and general manager of the digital enterprise group, showcased the Nehalem-EX for the expandable server market, which consists of eight-core processors on a single die. He then announced a power gate feature incorporating a "turbo mode"--a "previously undiscussed" element--for the Nehalem family of processors.

Nehalem fulfils the 45-nanometer "tock" of the chip giant's "tick-tock" strategy, which aims to shrink processor size with a new manufacturing process in odd years, and roll out new processor architectures in even.

When invited on stage by Gelsinger, Rajesh Kumar, Intel Fellow and director for circuit and low power technologies, explained that the new power management capability included "innovative sensors" and a power control unit that has a micro-controller that "only works on power".

The power gate can shut off both switching power when idle and leakage power, Kumar said at a separate Nehalem briefing. With the turbo mode, in a situation where not all the cores are necessary for a particular workload, the ones that are idle will be turned off and power is channeled to the cores that are active, making them more efficient.

At a media session later in the day, Gelsinger acknowledged the turbo mode had been talked about for Penryn, but with power gate, the turbo mode provided "much higher capabilities" and "greater headroom in a more thermally-constrained environment".

The power gate and turbo mode technology, he told ZDNet Asia, makes a "pretty compelling feature" for enterprises. It benefits a spectrum of users, from mobile workers on laptops enjoying improved battery life to data center administrators reaping "substantial power savings".

"Power is a large factor [in total cost of ownership]; depending on where you are in the world it may be 10 to 30 percent of your data center bill," Gelsinger pointed out. "This will allow IT users to significantly optimize their power load into their data centers of the future, so IT customers will look at this as a very attractive feature."

The first Nehalem processors, noted Gelsinger, will be for high-end desktops, followed by servers. They will start shipping from the fourth quarter of this year.

First quad-core mobile, small form factor processors
Intel also launched Tuesday quad-core mobile processors, which will go into production this quarter, according to Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the mobility group at Intel. Vendors including Dell, Fujitsu Siemens and Lenovo will be rolling out quad-core based notebook models, he noted.

Also highlighted were small-form-factor processors--shrunk-down Centrino 2 versions measuring in the "low to mid-20 millimeters" compared with the standard 35mm.

Vivian Yeo of ZDNet Asia reported from the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, California.