The Intel's developer forum (IDF) this week has seen the chip giant make a number of significant announcements. These include confirmation of a dual-core version of the server-focused Xeon, the death of the Pentium 4, the introduction of in-chip system management, and future plans for the Itanium plus confirmation of that troubled server chip's future.

Dual core future
Since the middle of 2004, Intel has embarked on a company-wide strategy to introduce chips with two or more processing cores integrated onto a single piece of silicon. This shift away from relying on steady increases in the clock speed of its single-core processors will allow Intel to improve processor performance without having to overcome the myriad thermal problems associated with high-frequency single-core processors.

It also allows PCs or servers with the chips to execute instructions in parallel, or two groups of instructions at the same time, digital enterprise division boss Stephen Smith said. This is extremely important for the next generation of PCs for the digital home and digital office, which will be simultaneously running multiple applications such as virus scanning, video editing, multimedia streams and much more, he said.

Dempsey is the code name for Intel's first dual-core Xeon processor, which will begin shipping in the first quarter of 2006. Dempsey will be manufactured using Intel's 65 nm processing technology, said Smith.

Paxville is the code name for Intel's first dual-core Xeon MP processor, designed for servers with four or more processors. Change comes more slowly to the upper end of the server market, and Intel will use its existing 90 nm processing technology to build Paxville. It is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2006. Intel's first 65 nm Xeon MP processor, Whitefield, is on target for 2007, and will be able to use the same chipset technology as Tukwilla, an Itanium 2 processor slated for the same time frame.

Intel's vaunted Pentium 4 brand name, which has denoted its flagship desktop processor since 2000, will be retired with the launch of the company's first dual-core desktop processor. The company also outlined some features of the first batch of its dual-core processors.

The company will introduce the Pentium D in the second half of this year. This chip was formerly code-named Smithfield, and will include two separate execution cores and two separate banks of Level 2 cache with 1M byte in each bank, Smith said. Both execution cores will share a single 800MHz front-side bus to connect the processor to the memory. Intel's hyperthreading technology, which allows desktop and server processors to process multiple threads, will not be part of the initial batch of Pentium D processors, he said.

As previously disclosed, Intel will also introduce the new dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor in the second quarter. That chip, targeted at gamers willing to spend a great deal of money for Intel's most expensive desktop chip, will run at 3.2GHz and come with 1MB of Level 2 cache dedicated to each core.

Intel will return to a single-core processor for its first 65-nanometre desktop processor, code-named Cedar Mill. Cedar Mill will be the second Intel processor built on its forthcoming 65 nm processing technology, which takes advantage of smaller transistors to advance performance and decrease power consumption. Yonah, a previously disclosed dual-core mobile processor, will be the first 65 nm chip released in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Presler will accompany Cedar Mill in the first half of 2006. It is also a 65 nm processor but is made up of two separate Cedar Mill chips placed into a single package, rather than the closer integration of execution units on a single chip seen in a processor like the Pentium D.

Management and security
Intel is preparing several technologies that will help IT managers secure their networks against external threats and manage increasingly complex combinations of client and server hardware, the company said Tuesday at the Spring Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

As part of its new platform-orientated strategy, Intel will build support for Intel Active Management Technology, Intel I/O Active Management Technology, Intel Virtualization Technology, and LaGrande security technology into upcoming processors and chipsets, said Smith's boss Pat Gelsinger. All of these technologies have been discussed before, but Intel revealed new details about the technologies and the target dates for their release during Gelsinger's afternoon keynote.

A platform is usually an ill-defined term in the technology industry, but Intel's concept of the platform includes a complete system where a processor, chipset, networking connection, and other technologies work together to enhance performance or usability. The company is no longer content with simply improving the raw performance of its processors and is adding features to its products that help users manage or secure their systems. It is calling those features the "Ts," and has already released early components such as hyperthreading (HT) and 64-bit extensions (EM64T).

Intel released the specifications for Intel Active Management Technology (AMT) to allow developers to build support for the technology into upcoming products. As its name suggests, Intel AMT improves the manageability of a company's hardware assets by allowing IT managers to upload operating system updates, set up new systems, and diagnose problems over a remote network. The technology exists below the operating system layer of a PC or server, meaning that IT managers can perform these operations even if the user has shut down the operating system, as long as that system remains connected to the network.

Gelsinger demonstrated the benefits of AMT when combined with Intel's Virtualization Technology (VT), another forthcoming feature. He simulated the effects of a virus outbreak on two systems, one without AMT and VT, and one with the features.

The system without the technologies was forced to disconnect from the network once the virus appeared on the system, and was offline for an extended period of time while operating system updates were uploaded to that machine. However, a machine with both VT and AMT was able to create a protected virtual operating system that could download the updates and keep the user going with only a slight interruption in connectivity, Gelsinger said.

Intel will introduce AMT and VT in its Lyndon platform for digital office PCs in 2005, Gelsinger said. In 2006, those technologies will also appear in Bensley, Intel's code name for its first dual-core Xeon server platform. Bensley includes the Dempsey dual-core processor (see above) and a new chipset code-named Blackford.

Another technology in Bensley that will help server performance is Intel I/O Acceleration Technology (I/O AT), which reduces the amount of I/O routing that must be taken on by the processor, Gelsinger said. Some server users and companies have turned to TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) offload engines (TOEs) to lighten the load on the processor, but I/O AT takes that one step further by allocating processing resources from dual-core chips, next-generation chipsets, and network controllers to I/O routing and controlling all that with software, he said.

Microsoft will support all of the forthcoming Intel technologies in the Longhorn versions of the Windows client and server operating systems, due in 2006 and 2007, respectively, said Microsoft platform group chief Jim Allchin. Appearing on stage with Gelsinger, Allchin also said that Microsoft will support Intel's technologies as soon as the chip maker releases them, indicating that Microsoft may add support to its current operating system products through software updates.

And the Itanium? The chip originally touted as the future chip for all servers has settled into a niche in high-end computing, along with a number of RISC processors. It's market share has plateaued at around five per cent. Non-x86 compatible, Intel chief Craig Barrett said that Intel planned to continue producing the Itanium, although he acknowledged that the chip's adoption had been slower than the company had hoped. He added that Intel still had long-term plans for the device.