Friday, February 29, 2008

Intel Ships New Xeon Processors for Embedded Applications

Intel Corp. on Wednesday announced a lineup of Intel Xeon microprocessors made using 45nm process technology for embedded applications. Additionally, the world’s largest maker of x86 chips announced that the new processors will have extended 7-year life cycle support.

The new central processing unit (CPU) lineup includes the quad-core Intel Xeon processor 5400-series and dual-core Intel Xeon processor 5200-series. These new processors, coupled with the new power-optimized Intel 5100 memory controller hub (MCH) chipset, comprise the first 45nm CPU platforms for thermally constrained bladed applications. When using the Intel 5000P chipset, the 45nm processors are ideal for full-performance and memory-intensive applications such as storage, routers, security and medical solutions, as well as communications applications such as IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS).

“We’re acutely aware of the performance demands and power consumption concerns of our customers and reached a remarkable 67% more compute performance-per-watt when we validated the Intel 5100 MCH chipset-based 45nm quad-core platform. In addition, the 45nm quad-core processors also allow for a 22% performance gain over previous-generation platforms within the same thermal profile, making it an excellent choice for compute-intensive applications such as IMS and platforms for storage, routers and security,” said Doug Davis, vice president and general manager of Intel’s embedded and communications group.

Intel is offering extended lifecycle support for 7 years for the dual-core Intel Xeon processor 5200-series (E5240, E5220, L5238) and the quad-core Intel Xeon processor 5400-series (E5440 and L5408). This represents an expansion from previous minimum support of 5 years.

The 45nm processors with extended lifecycle support are available today, and prices range from $321 to $690. The dual-core Intel Xeon processor L5238 at 35 watts will be available in April. The Intel 5100 MCH chipset is available today, starting at $76.

Sony Unveils New Version of PlayStation 3 in the U.S

Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) officially announced new Sony PlayStation 3 80GB product bundle. The video game system features a new game controller as well as included game, however, there is no word whether the new PS3 80GB is or is not compatible with Sony PlayStation and PlayStation 2 machines.

“Working closely with our retail and publishing partners and sharing our hardware and software roadmaps at Destination PlayStation gives us a great opportunity to outline some key milestones for the year. In response to incredible demand, we will be manufacturing more 80GB PS3s for North America and the Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots 80GB PS3 bundle is an ideal way to offer that continued value to our consumers,” said Jack Tretton, president and chief executive of SCEA.

The new version of PlayStation 3 80GB, which is due to be available in April, 2008, will come with DualShock 3 game controller as well as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots game.

While Sony has not indicated whether the new version of PlayStation 3 is compatible or incompatible with games developed for PlayStation and PlayStation 2, considering the fact that the company usually notifies its customers regarding this kind of limitations, the new PS3 80GB is more than likely to be backwards compatible. The new PS3 80GB will retail for $499 in the USA.

SCEA also said it would introduce the Dual Shock 3 wireless controller for the first time in North America in April 2008 for $54.95. DualShock 3 incorporates both rumble and motion sensing Sixaxis technologies, which enhances the gamer experience with more interactive, intuitive and immersive game play experience and will work with more than 100 current PS3 titles.

“With Blu-ray having won the format war, our stellar software line-up and a broad product portfolio, we will continue to drive the incredible momentum we’ve been generating since last fall,” Mr. Tretton added.

AMD Quietly Unveils Dual-Core Sempron Processors

Perhaps, considerably later than expected, but Advanced Micro Devices, the world’s second largest maker of x86 microprocessors, has quietly released its first dual-core AMD Sempron central processing unit (CPU). The chips will be initially available only in China, but it will hardly take long before they emerge in other countries and regions.

The first AMD Sempron processor with two processing engines is made using 65nm process technology and operates at 1.80GHz, reports DigiTimes web-site. The chip retails for about $55, which is below the price of the fastest single-core AMD Sempron LE 1300 microprocessor that operates at 2.30GHz, has 256KB of L2 cache and is priced at $69 in business quantities.

Intel Corp. unveiled its first Intel Celeron central processing units with two cores back in January ’08, however, for quite some time the world’s largest maker of x86 CPUs has been shipping dual-core Intel Pentium D and Intel Core 2 Duo processors at truly affordable price-points. On the other hand, AMD has been offering its AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+ processor for $68 for some time now.

It is a natural trend for desktop microprocessors to gain the number of cores as more and more software developers tend to optimize their applications to take advantage of multiple processing engines.

Officials from AMD did not comment on the news-story.

AMD Tests First Chips Made Utilizing Extreme Ultra-Violet Lithography

Advanced Micro Devices and IBM announced that they had produced a working test chip utilizing extreme ultra-violet (EUV) lithography for the critical first layer of metal connections across the entire chip. EUV lithography will be used for commercial production of microprocessors using 22nm process technology in about eight years time.

The AMD test chip first went through processing at AMD’s Fab 36 in Dresden, Germany, using 193 nm immersion lithography, the most advanced lithography tools in high volume production today. The test chip wafers were then shipped to IBM’s Research Facility at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) in Albany, New York where AMD, IBM and their partners used an ASML EUV lithography scanner installed in Albany through a partnership with ASML, IBM and CNSE, to pattern the first layer of metal interconnects between the transistors built in Germany. After patterning, etch and metal deposition processes, among others, the EUV device structures underwent electrical testing at AMD, with transistors showing characteristics very consistent with those of test chips built using only 193 nm immersion lithography. These wafers will receive additional metal interconnect layers using standard Fab processing so that large memory arrays can also be tested.

Previous projects utilizing EUV to produce working chip components were only “narrow field”, covering just a very small portion of the design. AMD and IBM claim successful integration of “full-field” EUV lithography into the fabrication process across an entire 22mm x 33mm AMD 45nm node test chip.

The next step in proving viability of the EUV lithography for production will be to apply it not only to metal interconnects but to all critical layers to show an entire working microprocessor can be made utilizing EUV lithography. EUV lithography will need to be fully qualified for production prior to 2016, when the 22nm half-pitch node on the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors is expected to be reached.

Lithography is how highly complex chip designs with millions of transistors, like microprocessors, are transferred onto the silicon wafer for the many layers required to build a chip. As chip designers continue to add functions and increase the performance of their products, making the transistors smaller and smaller makes more transistors available within a given area. How small transistors and the metal lines that connect them can be made is directly related to the wavelength of light that is used to project a chip design onto a wafer. EUV lithography uses a wavelength of 13.5nm, significantly shorter than today’s 193nm lithography techniques, allowing the traditional scaling of chip feature sizes to continue.

Fujitsu Unveils Mobile Hard Disk Drive with 500GB Capacity

Fujitsu, a leading maker of various electronics equipment, on Monday announced intention to produce 500GB hard disk drive for mobile and small form-factor applications. Fujitsu follows Hitachi, which unveiled its 2.5” 500GB hard drive early this year.

Fujitsu MHZ2 BT-series hard disk drives (HDDs) will require only 1.8W of power for read and write operations, ranking them among the most power-efficient drives in its class. However, the new drive features 4200rpm spindle speed, which will inevitable affect performance negatively.

It is interesting to note that MHZ2 BT 500GB model will use three 166GB platters, just like Hitachi’s offering unveiled in early 2008. The new drives will use Serial ATA interconnection.

Large 500GB hard drives are likely to become popular among makers of mobile workstations and gaming systems as professionals and gamers tend to demand higher performance as well higher storage capacities among other things. Unfortunately, 4200rpm spindle speed will keep certain users away from 500GB offering of Fujitsu, as its performance is likely to be lower compared to normal HDDs with 5400rpm spindle speed, not talking about 7200rpm mobile offerings.

Since the new 2.5” hard drives utilize three 166GB platters, the new HDDs have 12.5mm height, while normally mobile hard disk drives use two platters and have 9.5mm height. As a result, not all notebook chassis are compatible with the new mobile HDDs by Fujitsu and Hitachi. Still, considering that the new devices are mainly positioned for multimedia-oriented notebook systems that have plenty of space inside chassis, such limitation is unlikely to become a significant drawback.

The Fujitsu MHZ2 BT will be available worldwide in late May, 2008. Pricing of the 500GB HDD remains to be seen.

Microsoft to Discontinue HD DVD Add-On Drive for Xbox 360

Just a week after Toshiba Corp. decided to cease manufacturing of its HD DVD-supporting equipment, Microsoft Corp. announced decision to discontinue HD DVD add-on drive for Xbox 360 game console. The resolution means that Microsoft will have no reason to support the high-definition video format going forward, but does not indicate any intentions to supporting competing Blu-ray disc format.

“As a result of recent decisions made by Toshiba, Hollywood studios, and retailers, Microsoft plans to withdraw from HD DVD. [Microsoft] will no longer manufacture new HD DVD players for the Xbox 360, but we will continue to provide standard product and warranty support for all Xbox 360 HD DVD players in the market. As we stated earlier, we do not believe this decision will have any material impact on the Xbox 360 platform or our position in the marketplace,” a statement by Microsoft reads.

Microsoft was one of the most powerful supporters of HD DVD format. It developed VC-1 codec that is used on both Blu-ray and HD DVD as well as HDi technology, which enables interactive features of many HD DVD movies. But Microsoft has never built HD DVD player into its Xbox 360 game system and only sold add-on HD DVD drive for the game console. With the discontinuance of the add-on high-definition optical drive Microsoft said it plans to focus on distribution of downloadable high-definition movies. It is unclear whether the company also plans to release add-on Blu-ray disc drive for the Xbox 360.

“HD DVD is one of the several ways we offer a high definition experience to consumers and we will continue to give consumers the choice to enjoy digital distribution of high definition movies and TV shows directly to their living room, along with playback of the DVD movies they already own,” the statement reads.

Microsoft Xbox 360 console is based around triple-core microprocessor developed by IBM, high-definition visual processing unit designed by ATI Technologies, I/O controller engineered by SiS and some other key components. The gaming machine provides a broad set of multimedia capabilities in addition to games. Currently Microsoft Xbox 360 is available for $279, $349 or $449 in the USA depending on the version.

Nvidia Plans to “Improve” High Definition Video with New Driver Feature

Nvidia Corp., a leading designer of graphics adapters, announced that starting from the latest release of its ForceWare driver its graphics cards would improve the quality of high-definition videos. It is uncertain whether the improvements will actually make movies look the way it was meant to be viewed.

Along with the launch of Nvidia GeForce 9600-series graphics cards, the world’s largest supplier of graphics processing units (GPUs) also released a version of its ForceWare driver that “also improves high-definition video playback on everyday PCs”. As a result, Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS/GT/GTS512 as well as GeForce 9-series graphics cards are capable of dynamic contrast enhancement and automatic green, blue and skin tone enhancements.

Nvidia hopes that its new software-based technologies will improve quality of video playback significantly. However, the end result may be different: movie directors and end-users hardly like a hardware and software providers to “enhance” video playback due to various reasons. But the main one for directors seems to be the way it was meant to be seen.

“Does anyone out [t]here want to challenge what I feel suits my films better in terms of look? I see every frame of my films over a hundred times before it is ever released. I know the lighting conditions I shot it and the result on the DI. I know the range. I know what the final product should look like,” Michael Bay, the director of Transformers movie, recently said.

As with other enhancement video technologies by Nvidia, dynamic improvements of contrast and colour can be enabled and disabled from the driver, which means that users who would not like Nvidia to decide the way a movie should be seen, may disable appropriate feature.

tel Plans to Launch Six-Core Microprocessors Later This Year

Intel Corp. may release six-core microprocessors as early as in the second half of this year, according to a number of media reports. However, if those claims are correct, then it may mean not only another powerful central processing unit for Intel and a threat to chips from Advanced Micro Devices, but also a further delay in unification of Intel Itanium and Intel Xeon platforms.

Intel needs a chip to update its multi-processor (MP) enterprise server platform this year as no Nehalem-based microprocessor for the MP market segment is planned for 2008, whereas quad-core AMD Opteron microprocessors for multi-chip servers are on the offensive, perhaps, without a lot of success so far. However, it seems like unified Quick Path Interconnect (QPI) platform that supports both Intel Itanium and Intel Xeon processors is not due in 2008, at least, based on reports about the processor code-named Dunnington

According to reports from PC Watch and Virtualization Journal web-sites, Intel intends to released six-core Intel Xeon MP microprocessors in the second half of this year in order to offer processing power not achievable by rivaling products. Different web-sites report different details about the new product: some claim that Intel Xeon MP “Dunnington” is a chip with three dual-core dice on a single-piece of substrate, whereas some other indicate that the forthcoming code-named Dunnington CPU is a monolith six-core product with 16MB of unified L2 cache.

It is interesting to note that code-named Dunnington chip emerged in Intel’s roadmap back in 2005 along with code-named Whitefield processor, however, both were shortly replaced with code-named Tigerton chip for MP servers. Both Dunnington and Whitefield were believed to feature Intel’s QPI bus. It is widely believed that QPI is the bus to be used for many of Intel’s incoming processors, including desktop- and server-oriented chips based on code-named Nehalem micro-architecture. In addition, servers powered by future Intel Itanium and Intel Xeon CPUs are officially set to utilize the same platform architecture as well as QPI bus.

Theoretically, Intel Corp. may released six-core CPUs for desktop enthusiast segment as well, however, probability of this situation may not be very high as Intel’s plans towards Nehalem desktop ramp-up remain unclear.

Intel did not comment on the news-story.