“I’ll take what’s behind door number one, Craig. You know, that big blue one you’re standing in front of…”
O.K., so it wasn’t exactly Let’s Make a Deal, but Craig Barrett, president and chief executive officer of Intel Corp., hopes that businesses and consumers haven’t been too put off by security concerns surrounding the launch of the Pentium III.
To that end, he announced at a press briefing in San Jose, Calif., that the company is spending over US$300 million on a advertising campaign touting the advantages of the Pentium III.
Those include: faster processing speeds; 70 new instructions – the Streaming SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) Extensions, otherwise known as Katmai New Instructions or KNI which will lead to better 3D graphics rendering, more impressive multimedia experiences and the ability to access richer content over the Internet; and the ability to prevent the processor from broadcasting its unique identifier – its processor serial number (PSN), a one time writable, 32-bit serial identification number – to any computer system or Web site asking for it.
“The processor serial number was put in with two different intentions,” Barrett said. “We wanted to provide better asset tracking and better ways to identify what’s on corporate LANs, WANs, etc. We also envisioned it as a way to improve security on the Internet for consumers, but we expected [that usage] to take a longer time to be accepted.”
Intel will also offer PSN management software available for free download on its Web site. The software requires the system to be rebooted whenever the PSN is turned on or off. Intel recommends that hardware vendors ship processors with the PSN set to the off position.
According to analysts, however, corporate users are unlikely to be given the ability to turn their PSNs off.
“From a corporate point of view, you can really see the utility in a PSN,” said Dan Dolan, industry analyst, servers and workstations worldwide, for Dataquest in San Jose, Calif. “If a company is doing a large LAN deployment, for example, there is a need for the IS shop to track that type of information.”
Still, one lone protester was handing out flyers generated by an alliance that is organizing a boycott against Intel (www.bigbrotherinside.com). He said that people still need to worry about the security of their personal information.
“There is still a lot of potential for abuse. You will be targeted by marketers to receive better targeted spam. You still have to assume that people will be spoofing other people’s PSNs,” said Mark Kraft. Kraft, who works for an unnamed IT vendor, added that “I would love to see Intel be the good guy in this and ship all of the chips with the feature turned off until the [management] software appears.”
The bigbrotherinside.com site has also posted a link to the German IT magazine c’t, which claims it has found a way to work around the Intel software and turn the PSN on and off without a reboot.
This revelation has convinced at least one industry analyst that Intel still has more work to do on its security measures. “The question,” said Gregory Weiss, a research analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y., “is how likely is it that the user will notice when [the chip] has been hacked? If you can turn it off and on in software without rebooting, you can have applications that turn it on and grab the information only for a very short period of time.
“It looks like it will be slightly useful for IT guys, but it is definitely full of security holes. It will not be a useful security feature from my point of view.”
The Pentium IIIs will look very familiar at first. The 450MHz and 500MHz chips will be based on existing 0.25 micron technology and will come with the front side 100MHz bus and the 440BX chipset, but by Q3, they will evolve into a completely new animal.
The first fully redesigned Pentium III will include an on-board thermal noise-based random number generator, useful in encryption procedures, and will employ a 550MHz, 0.18 micron design using a 133MHz system bus and backside level 2 cache with the 820 chipset. Currently, Pentium IIIs have 32KB of level one cache – 16KB for data and 16KB for instructions – and a half-speed 512KB level two cache, but the new design is likely to see an integrated 256KB L2 cache. As a comparison, Celerons have 128KB full speed L2 cache while Xeons run with full speed L2 caches of 512KB, 1MB or 2MB (additional specifications can be found at http://developer.intel.com).
The question of caches puzzles some industry analysts. Rob Enderle, vice-president of the Giga Information Group in San Jose, for example, doesn’t know why the Pentium III only has a half-speed L2 cache.
“Something is really throwing me off on this one. The AMD runs at full-speed cache. The Celeron runs at full-speed cache. The P3 is supposed to have the same architecture as the Celeron, which means it has full-speed cache, but the P3 has half-speed cache.
“In order to get the Celeron performance up there they removed the buffer, but they wanted to keep a performance benefit for the Xeon, so the Xeon is at full speed. That means they crippled the P3 to give it a place in the market and that might come back to haunt them.”
Enderle added that until the launch of the fully rearchitected Pentium IIIs, there is little reason to purchase one.
“The real benefit to the P3 product will be the affinity it will have to Windows 2000, but on the new motherboard and with the new components. There you will get about as close as you can get with any technology to a 7-by-24 generic desktop product that stays up all the time, that you won’t have to reboot and that doesn’t crash regularly. It will be substantially more solid than anything that has ever been built.”