Feeds

Deep inside Intel's new ARM killer: Silvermont

Chipzilla's Atom grows up, speeds up, powers down

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Remember hyperthreading? Fuggedaboutit

We should note that one thing Silvermont has dropped from its predecessor microarchitectures is the ability to run two instruction threads through a core simultaneously. "With Saltwell," Kuttanna said, "we had hyperthreading on the cores. We had four threads operating on two physical cores. With Silvermont we dropped the support for hyperthreading because it wasn't the right trade-off for us with Silvermont where we were ... going after higher single-thread [instructions per clock cycle (IPC)]."

According to Kuttanna, the "return on investment" for keeping hyperthreading in Silvermont wasn't worth it, and the microarchitecture's designers chose instead to increase that all-important IPC rate by adding OoO processing and increasing the number of compute cores in high-end parts.

Intel Silvermont Atom processor architecture: multi-core modularity

Silvermont's modular architecture will pack up to eight cores, two by two – or one (click to enlarge)

In addition to maturing with such additions as OoO and improved branch prediction, Silvermont also grows up with the addition of some new instructions. "We had the luxury of looking at what's already developed within this mature architecture we have with IA," Kuttanna said, "and focus on what are the ingredients that actually will be useful in the market segments that we are trying to target with the Silvermont-based products."

Among those ingredients that Intel has added to Silvermont are streaming single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) media-processing extensions from the Westmere-level Core instruction set, namely SSE4.1 and SSE4.2, along with POPCNT, plus AES-NI encryption/decryption for enhanced security.

Hardware-level virtualization capabilities are also enhanced with the addition of Intel's second-generation VT-x2, which adds capabilities such as extended page tables that allow the guest operating system within a particular platform to manage its memory space more efficiently, Kuttanna said.

"We also have other features such as virtual processor IDs," he said, "that allow us to retain some of the states within our [translation lookaside buffers (TLBs)] when you're going through a [virtual machine] transition." And if that's a bit opaque for you, don't break your brain trying to figure it out, just know that it'll make life easier for developers working on virtualization implementations for Silvermont systems.

Speaking of gearheads, their lives should be also made easier by the addition of new debugging tools. "We've introduced a new technology with Silvermont called Real Time Instruction Tracing that we'll make available to our OEM partners to help them debug both the hardware and software that's running on these platforms," Kuttanna said.

Intel Silvermont Atom processor architecture: new instructions and technologies

Silvermont will borrow instructions from its big brother, Westmere (click to enlarge)

Okay, so Silvermont has a wide range of improvements over its Atom predecessors – but what will all those tweaks add up to in terms of performance? Quite a bit, if Perlmutter and Kuttanna are to be believed. As we mentioned earlier, Intel claims an overall 3x improvement in performance or a 5x improvement in power savings.

As for exact clock speeds, wattages, core-counts, and the like, they'll be announced along with the upcoming platform announcements. "When we talk about Bay Trail, Merrifield, et cetera, we'll give you the specific power and performance numbers," Kuttanna said.

Both presenters at the Silvermont rollout emphasized that simply counting cores in mobile processors is not a useful way of determining performance – and, of course, since they were debuting their new Atom core, they could be expected to make that point. But they were adamant.

"When it comes to cores, especially in the mobile space and phone," Kuttanna said, "there's a trend to be increasing the number of cores and providing the perception that it always leads to better performance." Not so, he said, displaying a slide that showed a dual-core Silvermont far outpacing an unnamed quad-core competitor in performance per watt.

The title of that slide, by the way, was "Not All Cores Are Created Equal".

"It's all about how you design your cores and the operating range of your cores to take advantage of the sweet spot in that operating range," Kuttanna said – the sweet spot meaning good performance at a reasonable power draw. "Our dual-core solutions can actually outperform the quad-core solutions."

Again, Perlmutter was more matter-of fact. "You could put in eight lawn mowers and you could not fly a jet," he said.

In that vein, we'll find out soon enough if Silvermont will enable Intel's mobile ambitions to take off, but – conceptually, at least – it appears that liftoff might finally be possible after years of acceleration down what has proven to be a long, long runway. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
So, Apple won't sell cheap kit? Prepare the iOS garden wall WRECKING BALL
It can throw the low cost race if it looks to the cloud
Samsung Gear S: Quick, LAUNCH IT – before Apple straps on iWatch
Full specs for wrist-mounted device here ... but who'll buy it?
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Now that's FIRE WIRE: HP recalls 6 MILLION burn-risk laptop cables
Right in the middle of Burning Mains Man week
HUGE iPAD? Maybe. HUGE ADVERTS? That's for SURE
Noo! Hand not big enough! Don't look at meee!
Intel unleashed octo-core speed demon for the power-crazed crowd
Haswell-E processors designed for gamers and workstation crowds
AMD unveils 'single purpose' graphics card for PC gamers and NO ONE else
Chip maker claims the Radeon R9 285 is 'best in its class'
Tim Cook in Applerexia fears: New MacBook THINNER THAN EVER
'Supply chain sources' give up the goss on new iLappy
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?