Intel unveils Nehalem 'turbo mode'

At IDF, the chipmaker announced a power-control feature in its new micro architecture, claiming it is 'pretty compelling' for enterprises.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor
Intel unveiled on 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) in San Francisco, Pat Gelsinger, Intel's senior vice president and general manager of the digital enterprise group, showcased Nehalem EX for the expandable server market, consisting 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 45nm (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 years.

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".

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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 said, 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, Gelsinger 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 datacenter 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 datacenter bill," Gelsinger said. "This will allow IT users to significantly optimize their power load into their datacenters 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.

Intel also launched on 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 said.

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

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