Security and 64-bits coming to Intel’s Prescott in June

Later this year, Intel Corp. will turn on security features and 64-bit extensions within the Prescott core as it ships PC and server processors based on Prescott and the Grantsdale chipset in the second half of the year, Intel president and chief operating officer Paul Otellini said during Intel’s spring analyst meeting Thursday in New York.

Prescott supports the NX (no execute) feature that will prevent worms and viruses from executing dangerous code through the exploitation of buffer overflows, Otellini said during a Webcast of the event. Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Athlon 64 and Opteron processors also come with this feature, which requires software support from Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP Service Pack 2 expected later this year.

Intel has built technologies into other processors that it disabled at launch and turned on over time as software became available to support those features. Hyperthreading is a recent example.

Extensions technology is another feature that was disabled in current Prescott processors but will be activated in forthcoming processors. Intel’s first server and workstation processors with 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set will launch next month with products expected in July from server vendors, Otellini said.

The chips based on Intel’s EM64T (extended memory 64 technology) will include chips for dual-processor servers based on the Nocona core and single-processor servers and workstations based on the Prescott core. The Nocona core is virtually the same as the Prescott core, but Nocona comes with additional reliability features and is subject to tougher validation testing.

Otellini fleshed out more details for the financial community around the company’s decision to shift its resources toward multicore designs for its next generation of processors. Last week Intel canceled plans for Tejas and Jayhawk, future versions of the Pentium 4 and Xeon processors, respectively.

Multicore processors allow software developers to develop more powerful applications, Otellini said. For example, the software developer could dedicate one core to a specific application task, and run the rest of the application on another, he said. Microsoft’s Longhorn operating system will perform much better on dual-core processors than single-core ones when it arrives, Otellini said.

Hyperthreading was the first phase of Intel’s move toward multicore chips, Otellini said. This technology allowed the operating system to allocate resources to unused execution units in a single-core processor, effectively fooling the operating system into assuming it was running on a dual-processor system.

By the end of this year, all Intel server processors and over half of its processors for performance clients will have hyperthreading technology, Otellini said.

The shift toward dual-core processors will get under way in 2005 for desktop, notebook and server processors. By 2006, all of Intel’s IA-32 server processors, more than 90 percent of its Itanium processors and more than half of its processors for performance clients will be dual-core chips, Otellini said.

“By going to multicore, we can increase performance within the existing or better thermal envelopes for each of these form factors,” Otellini said.

Intel is expected to shift its processor design strategy even further in coming years, as it adopts the power-thrifty characteristics of the Banias architecture within the Pentium M processor. However, the first dual-core processors for desktops and servers will retain the Netburst architecture in the Prescott core, sources told IDG News Service last week.

Otellini did not comment specifically on the shift to the Pentium M or the architecture of its first dual-core chips but signaled that the Prescott core will be the main technology for Intel’s desktop and server products over the next few years.

Intel’s future growth opportunities will centre around its Centrino package of chips for notebooks, the digital home and the communications marketplace over the rest of the decade, said Intel chief executive officer Craig Barrett in remarks preceding Otellini’s presentation. More than 70 per cent of Intel’s business comes from outside the U.S., but only 25 per cent of its products will be consumed in emerging markets such as China and India, he said.

Those emerging markets will provide the foundation for Intel’s growth in the future, Barrett said.

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