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article imageIntel shows off: New Tukwila chip has over 2 billion transistors

By Paul Wallis     Feb 4, 2008 in Technology
Intel has announced a new quad-core chip, called Tukwila, has passed the two billion transistor mark. It hits speeds of 2 Ghz. Intel calls it an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, advance. Tukwila is answering a market demand for more memory.
Intel put on a show for the 2008 International Solid-State Circuits Conference, unveiling its new Silverthorne and Tukwila processors
The theory, for what it’s worth, is that the number of transistors at a fixed cost doubles every two years.
Which is nice to know, but the fact is that the demand has been increasing for more pure capacity, regardless of theories of development.
As the New York Times reports, there’s some targeting of a big market:
The new processor, due for release by the end of 2008, has a quad-core design that doubles the performance of systems with Intel's Itanium 9100 dual-core processors, said Justin Rattner, chief technology officer at Intel.
Tukwila will be detailed during a session at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco this week.
The processor will run at up to 2GHz and include the QuickPath Interconnect system architecture with an integrated memory controller for improved communication links between system components, Rattner said. The architecture, different from Intel's x86 architecture, is designed to support data-intensive applications. The processor works with Unix, Linux and Windows Server OS software
The trick about Tukwila is that it has a strong memory cache on its two billion chips. That’s a big selling point in the hard pressed server market.
The Tukwila architecture will include 30M bytes of on-die cache, a 10 percent increase over the current Itanium. It will also include dual-integrated memory controllers, Rattner said.
Tukwila is targeted at servers running enterprise applications, so the design includes an advanced RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) feature to reduce data corruption and ensure reliable system performance, Rattner said. Advanced RAS features correct errors that may occur when data is being crunched on a processor.
As usual, the tech side of the report misses a market issue which is driving some people up the wall. Regardless of the sales spiel, and statements of the dazzlingly obvious like “reduce data corruption and ensure reliable system performance”, there’s a screaming need for more grunt in servers.
IT employment is stagnant/comatose at the moment, except for server-handlers/counselors.
That’s being driven by cost efficiencies fighting a menagerie of server capabilities and data loads.
Tukwila has some characteristics which are pretty unfashionable in terms of chip design; it’s not “power oriented”, trying to cut power utilization, and 2GB is a pretty sedate pace for a processor.
One reason I can think of, for this apparent lack of ambition, is to get a reliable performance out of those 2 billion transistors.
It would be bordering on the further-out horizons of absurdity to produce this thing and wind up with power and speed anomalies.
Frankly, I think a bit of realism creeping into design has a lot to be said for it.
Servers invariably wind up with whatever gets thrown at them. That's the issue.
Tukwila looks like it’s designed for capacity and durability, rather than glitz.
That would probably be more appreciated in the IT industry than the usual list of “innovations” which get tacked onto packages and disappear forever after the slideshow promo.
Revolution will be a new class of technology that actually works, not a sales pitch. Till then, evolution, of systems that survive in the real world, is pretty good idea.
There’s a nasty smell of incrementalism in many IT products these days, usually minor performance boosts in irrelevancies, or obscure applications which can’t be applied to anything.
Intel can take some credit for avoiding that series of insults to people's intelligence.
The gaga approach to servers and processors can now be considered boorish, rather than professional.
It may even be a reason for the current drastic increase in impure thoughts in the IT industry.
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