No prisoners: Intel unwraps SMT Xeon

Threads everywhere...

IDF Even by its standards, Intel has prepped an aggressive roll-out of its SMT multi-threaded processors across its server line, beginning right about now.

Xeon is the first mainstream processor to incorporate SMT (simultaneous multi threading), although the technique was nurtured with the Alpha EV8, which as we now know, will never see the light of day. We first confirmed that Intel's Jackson project was slightly more than a skunkworks sideline here, last February in fact. The wheeze was pioneered by Burton Smith in some pioneering Cray machines, but it's Dean Tulsen, who coined the expression SMT, who can take the credit for nurturing it into mainstream processors. Dean worked with DEC in 1994 and 1995, when DEC was thinking about next generation processors.

SMT, or in Zilla-speak, "HyperThreading", is an approach to increasing parallelism that makes a processor appear as two CPUs to the operating system. It adds about ten per cent to the die, but using virtual registers, can increase the throughput significantly. How much? Intel says roughly 30 per cent, but the Alpha designers were far more optimistic with their SMT Alphas.

What's interesting is that Intel isn't putting a price premium on this bounty.

SMT will be everywhere in Xeonland. There won't be a Xeon without SMT, in fact. Beginning today, the P7 Xeons with 200Mhz DDR technology, with 512k cache, and using the E7400 chipset will sell for $251 for the 1.8Ghz version, $417 for the 2Ghz version, and $615 at the top end 2.2Ghz chip.

Intel reckons this can add up to a 89 per cent improvement in web performance over a 1Ghz Xeon.

In days gone by, Intel used to introduce high-end technologies at a leisurely pace, and sit back and watch the orders roll in, as it could bank on the demand for the high-margin debutantes. But the SMT roll-out obsoletes the current Xeons in one spectacular sweep, and is particularly aggressive, even for Intel. Intel's execution on its server line has been pretty consistently good, too, and whether there's a market left for AMD and low-end RISCs such as Jalapeno in a year's time, we'll see. Those guys need to show us real chips, and real numbers, real soon now, to convince there's a pulse. ®

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