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Processors, processors...

"Three Cocks on the Dunghill," "Intel Encharmed by E-business", "4.5 GHz by IBM," "Wintel Plans for Forthcoming Years", "64-bit Heart Called Itanium," "Transmeta versus Elbrus", "Blue Chips Attack!" etc, etc. Those are just a few titles from professional journals somehow connected with the heart of every computer - the processor.
There are several big-time players in this field: Intel with Pentium processors, IBM (Power3-II), AMD (K6-2), Via (Cyrix III) and HP (PA-RISC). Although the market has been looking over its shoulder for cheaper and the sometimes more powerful Cyrix and K6 processors made by other competitors, Intel still remains the real king on the enterprise PC market.


Peter Krošlák

"Three Cocks on the Dunghill," "Intel Encharmed by E-business", "4.5 GHz by IBM," "Wintel Plans for Forthcoming Years", "64-bit Heart Called Itanium," "Transmeta versus Elbrus", "Blue Chips Attack!" etc, etc. Those are just a few titles from professional journals somehow connected with the heart of every computer - the processor.

There are several big-time players in this field: Intel with Pentium processors, IBM (Power3-II), AMD (K6-2), Via (Cyrix III) and HP (PA-RISC). Although the market has been looking over its shoulder for cheaper and the sometimes more powerful Cyrix and K6 processors made by other competitors, Intel still remains the real king on the enterprise PC market.

The last Intel newbies were introduced on the last Cebit, where the new Itanium processor was presented. Intel sees Itanium as one of the basic headstones of its third generation e-business concept, which integrates all external and internal company operations into e-business processes including the linking and administration of relations with customers.

Sixty-four bit Itanium promises an even higher performance with 800 MHz frequency and should be released this summer. The opposite end of the processor scale is occupied by the 32-bit Celeron and the expected new Timna - both aimed at low-end computers. The enterprise desktop area should see the Pentium II replaced by a processor codenamed Willamette (1.2 GHz), and powerful servers should be dominated by Foster, the successor to the well-known Xeon technology. There are also some even more exotic generations of Intel processors: Cascades, McKinley, Madison and Deerfield.

So far, processor development trends have been aimed mostly at increasing processor frequency. These included attempts to have various processor parts co-operate even though they run with different frequencies (IBM - 4.5 GHz), using "thinner" technology - 0.18 to 0.13 microns - exploiting extremely long instructions (Russian VLIW technology for Crusoe processors), or using other materials: copper for connecting active processor components and silicon again as semi-conductor substrate.

Further technological advances should lead to a reduction in the heat produced by processors, which influences performance and decreases speed. Another method for improvement is to concentrate on the motherboard chipsets supporting faster system bus and memory - 133 to 200 MHz, together with a more efficient fast cache memory structure.

New ways for achieving different processor architectures are also intensively sought and could lead to really surprising results. This was the case of the above-mentioned 4.5 GHz IBM processor, based on the Interlocked Pipelined CMOS (IPCMOS) approach. Such technologies are still in a pioneering stage, though, and consequently the first processors should be released only this year with the 4 GHz frequency target achieved in four years.

But what is the practical impact of such an "arms race" in terms of a new and thrilling performance for a real-life IT manager? At the very least it will bring an understanding of what sector of IT infrastructure is worth investing into. Today, a common "office" PC can comfortably exist with a 266 MHz Pentium II. For powerful workstations the Pentium III 400/450 MHz is enough and PC servers can include up to 8 PIII Xeon 550 MHz processors.

In practice it is still common to see aged two-processor servers with Pentium Pro 200 MHz having problems with features other than processor performance, namely RAM extension over 384 or 512 MB, disk and bus throughput and hard drive capacity.

So, do you really need a Pentium III 733 MHz and 128 MB RAM for about 120,000 Slovak crowns just now? The correct answer is...?

Peter Krošlák is responsible for Hardware Solutions at PosAm Bratislava. His column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to kroslak@posam.sk.

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