Jacksonville Bugle trumpets Gelsinger co-efficient
What's in a name?
Intel Developer Forum This week Intel finally cracked the Gelsinger co-efficient, but our Pat was nowhere to be seen. Also absent from the biannual forum was the CEO himself. Craig Barrett was presumably riding his Pentium steed somewhere far away on the other side of the Sierra Nevada.
It's a shame Pat wasn't here to trumpet Jacksonville, Intel's multi-threaded chip technology. The implications of SMT chips haven't been fully appreciated yet, if the quick-rehash newswires are anything to go by. Jackson upsets - in the nicest possible way, for Chipzilla - the dynamics of server pricing. This may be down to the law of diminishing marketing returns, though.
Every IDF requires some breakthrough marketing term, and we suspect after hearing about copper and NetBurst, "hyper-threading" induced glazed-eye buzzword fatigue amongst the redoubtable press corps. Actually there are two triumphs to herald in Jacksonville. The first is that Intel is the first mainstream microprocessor company to implement SMT. Now, you may well say that's because Alpha, which has been expectant-with-SMT for almost seven years now, expired a yard short of the finishing post. EV8 Alpha was canned earlier this summer. And you may add that Intel's Jackson SMT doesn't add anything like the performance that SMT was supposed to add to processors. That's true, but kind of irrelevant: the winners get to rewrite history, and as we'll see, the vocabulary too.
The second triumph was keeping the project so low key. Apart from your humble scribes at The Register and the excellent Ace Shardware, Chipzilla kept the SMT coup very quiet. Reg co-founder Mike Magee was privy to a PowerPoint slide that should never have been made public, but that was last October. Around the same time, a comment in a Linux header file noted "added support for virtual processor in Jackson". Then in February, Pat Gelsinger told a chip conference how Intel's current design strategy was basically unsustainable, and sotto voce mentioned SMT as a possible solution. By that stage, world+dog was under Jackson NDAs, and word spread.
Slice and dice
OK, so virtual processors make for an intriguing marketing conundrum. You're buying one chip, but given sympathetic workloads, it behaves more like two. Where does that leave SMP systems, which to the manufacturer cost twice as much? Shannon Poulin, Intel's enterprise marketing manager for servers, tells us the distinction is pretty clear cut. The Jackson chips only have one floating point unit, so for maths and vector processing an SMP is still more efficient. But whizzo floating point performance, while very important to the games and graphics applications, isn't where the money is. So Intel is avoiding the problem.
Poulin says Jackson Xeons will populate SMPs, in other words they'll be SMPs composed of SMTs, so don't expect to see single-processor Jackson chips. And he insists, SMT Xeons won't affect the McKinley business, as IA-64's superior floating point performance and address space are the clinchers.
Big Brother Inside
Orwell readers who've read this far will probably note that nowhere in the Jackson literature is the word SMT invoked. From what we've learned the history of this technology dates back to the mid-seventies, when 'multi-threaded' architectures were first mooted. The term 'simultaneous multi-threading' goes back seven years, and that's how the world has known it ever since. But what we heard this week, and what was dutifully reprinted by the wire drones was 'Hyper Threading'.
A little presumptious, we wondered? Is there an example of an academic term being so rapidly sacrificed on the marketing altar? Intel is usually pretty good about this: it doesn't call registers 'IntelMemSlots' for example. The answer came back that of course we weren't trying to rewrite history, only that 'Hyper Threading' was our implementation of SMT. With our own special stuff added. But isn't every implementation similarly unique? Um, OK. For now, and until you the dear readers think we're being unduly fussy, we'll give the term 'Hyper Threading' the inverted commas it deserves. ®