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April 22, 2009

First the Tick, Now the Tock

By Jeff Hudgins, VP of Engineering, NEI, Inc.


This article originally appeared in the April issue of Internet Telephony magazine.

The first year of the Intel (News - Alert) Tick-Tock model (“Tick”) refers to the new silicon process technology which increases the transistor density within a smaller existing microarchitecture. The second year (“Tock”), refers to the introduction of a new processor microarchitecture to optimize the value of the increased number of transistors. 2009 is the “Tock” year of the new Intel Microarchitecture (Nehalem). Computer Manufacturers, Independent Software Vendors, and end users will all feel the affects of this technology transition over the next 18 months. And like any technology shift, timing is critical.
 
Let’s first consider the impact to adjacent technologies in the system. Memory will be forced to transition from DDR2 to DDR3 under Nehalem. The projected shipping volumes of these two DRAMs are projected to reach parity sometime in the third quarter of this year. One would expect to pay a premium until parity is reached. Operating systems such as Windows and Linux have a limited ability to use the 32 threads available with Nehalem. The operating system could potentially trip over itself as threads compete for resources.
 
Next let’s focus on the application itself. In an eight socket system supporting up to 128 threads, only highly specialized applications will be able to make effective use of the system. The addition of more cores provides capacity to run more independent tasks simultaneously, however, single threaded applications will not be able to take advantage of more cores. Individual software tasks may see only a modest per-core performance boost, unless the application is written with enough threads to exploit the number of threads and cores in the system.
 
Finally, there are some side impacts to the environment to consider. Intel used a strict power/performance efficiency threshold to measure against. If a feature could not add more than 1 percent performance gain versus 1 percent power gain for a less than 3 percent power cost, then the feature was not added. This strict process ensures the most efficient processor design. Virtualization is an ideal application for the new Nehalem microarchitecture as well and a perfect opportunity to lower enterprise or data center power budgets.
 
Final Score. The best time to move to the new Nehalem microarchitecture will depend upon many factors, but the final decision will depend upon the competitive environment and customer impact. If improved performance, bandwidth, and power efficiency will differentiate the solution, then the time to begin the transition process is here.

Jeff Hudgins, Vice President of Engineering at NEI, writes the Tech Score column for TMCnet. To read more of Jeff’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Greg Galitzine


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