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Intel @ ECTS 2001
At this years ECTS we conducted an interview with Intel, the world's largest CPU manufacturer. We asked them questions relating to their processors, Pentium 3 (Tualatin), Pentium 4 and Itanium. We move into various questions during the course of the interview, and the order of questions here wasn't the order of questions asked in the interview.
UKGamer : We know that Intel aren't able to publicly support DDR RAM technologies until early next year, do you feel that RDRAM is one of the reasons behind Intel loosing ground to AMD in the past year?
Intel : We went via the RAMBUS platform because we looked at it and did a lot of testing and saw that it was faster for the things we were looking at, in terms of 3D audio and video. We were always working on SDRAM and DDR support, but we prefer to release a chipset which is reliable, and you've all seen what happens when chipsets are released without robust DDR support. Now with the 845 chipset we will support SDRAM and DDR and have that out in the first quarter of 2002.
UKGamer : With RDRAM being generally more expensive than SDRAM/DDR, with the price of RAM coming down do you think that RDRAM will become a more viable option for users and gamers alike?
Intel : Definately, look at RDRAM pricing now, 128 megs is about 50/60 bucks, it's just astonishing how it's come down. It's not quite on price parity with DDR, but it's getting down there.
UKGamer : With the Pentium 4 is Intel trying to target any specific area in the market?
Intel : We want to have one processor as a solution for everything. If you look at our price ranges, you have the Celeron for entry level and we want anything that's upper/middle level to be powered by the Pentium 4. We are in the transition period from Pentium 3 to Pentium 4.
UKGamer : One of the main things said by a lot of people is that clock for clock the Pentium 4 is slower than the AMD Athlon, you've now launched the Pentium 4 2Ghz but is there any other ways Intel are trying to beat AMD other than just launching processors with faster clock speeds?
Intel : We don't like focusing on Megahertz either, we think it's one of many measures. It's like a car, horse power, torque etc, there's many measures of power. It can do 0-60 in 3 seconds but if you are stuck on the M4 and you can't even reach 60, then what difference does it make. That's where system things come into play, like RAMBUS, system bus, things like USB 2.0. So there are other things than just megahertz.
UKGamer : Recently there has been stories that the Pentium 4 can be scaled up to 10Ghz, can you confirm those stories? Are we going to see the Pentium 4 go along to 10 Ghz?
Intel : Look at the history of processors at Intel, you'll see a very clear trend following Moore's Law. That trends' going to continue. The processor definition is beyond the Gigahertz, it's instructions, architecture amongst others. So yes, in the Labs we've proven that 10Ghz is a possibility, but how we get there is kind of extrapolating Moore's Law and taking a look at it and figure it out. A working 3.5Ghz Pentium 4 was shown at the Intel Developer Forum.
UKGamer : Intel has been supporting USB 2.0 ever since the start, when can we expect it to be supported by your chipsets?
Intel : We believe it'll be here by the second quarter of next year.
UKGamer : You recently launched the Tualatin "version" of the Pentium 3 processor, which uses a 0.13micron process. Pentium 4's still use 0.18micron manufacture process, when can we expect to see 0.13micron in a Pentium 4?
Intel : Thats happening this quarter, you'll see major transition from 0.18 to 0.13micron copper interconnects and all the other performance gains that come with the reduced die size. It'll be a whole assembley/manufacture change along with a different package, 478 pin.
UKGamer : The Tualatin is really a Pentium 3 with a few enhancements (the main one being the fact that it uses 0.13micron manufacture process). What was the point of launching this processor if, as you say you are trying to move people from the Pentium 3 to the Pentium 4?
Intel : The Tualatin was launched for very specific customers. We don't see Tualatin as a huge product for Intel, because we introduced it after the demands of customers that need the Tualatin for specific needs. The Tualatin has some of the stuff we would like to push into the mobile market in the future.
UKGamer : Are the two versions {1.13 and 1.2GHz} of Tualatin that are out currently the last?
Intel : The Tualatin is really a product that fills up a gap in our roadmap. We are eventually going to get the Pentium 4 using the 0.13micron process and then we won't need it {Tualatin} anymore.
UKGamer : Would you say that the Tualatin was a "taster" of 0.13micron technology from Intel?
Intel : We knew from the start that we will be moving over to the 0.13micron. It was always a matter of balancing demand manufacture capacity. When the Pentium 4 goes to 0.13micron it will be available in volume. We look at the roadmap and look at the gaps, for example between the Celeron and the Pentium 4 there was a bit of a gap.
UKGamer : The Tualatin has been aimed at the mobile market, are we going to see pricing to reflect that?
Intel : Indeed the Tualatin is for the mobile market that's not to say there won't be any desktop, but it depends on what people want.
UKGamer : AMD have recently launched their Athlon 4 and Athlon MP range, many websites (such as AnandTech) have said that it's one of the fastest server platforms and they use it as their forums server. Intel's main processor aimed at the server market, the Xeon has been seen to be slower than the Athlon MP platform in certain benchmarks. Do you see the Athlon MP platform as a direct threat to your server platform?
Intel : I think there is a huge difference between Anandtech's server platform and corporate server platforms. We have Itanium Xeon designs in almost all the Fortune 500 companies because they need reliability. These are platforms that have been in operation for years and are trusted to work. Maybe Anandtech like it for their needs, but when it comes down to Citibank making a choice for their financial backend, I think there's a lot of proof behind our processors. Our platforms go through years of testing, we've piloted 1000 Itanium servers in businesses and we've worked with hundreds of software vendors. We always have believed in the server market, if you remember the Pentium Pro, which was our first real server processor, and we now have 1.7Ghz Xeon's with 2Mb cache today.
UKGamer : Moving onto price, we recently purchased two Pentium 3 1Ghz processors for our webserver, however each processor cost us 200. AMD's 1Ghz Athlon could be bought at the time for around 90, obviously there is a huge price difference in those two processors, and traditionally Intel and AMD have a fierce price war. It looks like at the moment Intel are someway behind in that war.
Intel : At this time now, we are relatively at price parity. If you look at the 1.3/1.4/1.5 Ghz Pentium 4s they are all the same level because we are trying to move people onto the faster Pentium 4s. I think what you are seeing from AMD is something that is a couple of Dollars less. Pricing is not necessarily something that you compete with someone else. While we lower prices to make the Pentium 4 look more attractive we have to hit certain price points, thats the main reason.
UKGamer : In the past year Intel has lost general market share to AMD, how are you trying to "win back" this lost market share?
Intel : We look at competition as a good thing. For consumers it's great and for Intel it's good. It keeps us on our toes and keeps us on top of our products and realise any weaknesses and ultimately it's good for the consumer because you can buy 2Ghz now for the price you bought a 500Mhz processor a few years ago. It's just not just the pricing, it's optimising software we have 200 titles that are optimised for the Pentium 4 such as Black and White. So overall it's applications, retail readiness and Windows XP. We've been working closely with Microsoft and for one of the first times there will be co-branding with a Pentium 4 logo and a Windows XP logo for OEMs to use in their systems. When we designed the Pentium 4, we looked at usage models and said that 3D Audio/Video is a key target, whereas the imager stuff is not as polished. XP is a move towards video/audio streaming so the Pentium 4 is better suited to those applications.
UKGamer : With the first DDR supportive motherboards coming out, do you think Intel will regain ground on AMD?
Intel : We look at any way to get Intel processors into sockets as a way to gain market share. I think it's a natural. It's really a matter of we didn't release it because we didn't think it was robust enough. We didn't want 10% of the motherboards coming back from angry customers like what has happened with other manufacturers.
UKGamer : Are you doing anything for the mobile sector with the Pentium 4 processor?
Intel : We are working on several mobile technologies. Speedstep and Speedstep 2 is an example. We put a lot of resources into mobile technology. We launched Baniass at the Intel Developer Forum which is very interesting for mobile markets.
UKGamer : Your 64bit Itanium processor has been hit by several patent infringement lawsuits, can we ever expect to see Itanium in the "shops" or will it be kept for the high-end server vendors?
Intel : Itanium is something you won't see at your local electrical store. It's designed for a very high end servers which are done with very large service organisations, IBM for example. Some resellers will have Itanium chips on their shelves but we don't expect to see many. The Itanium processor is meant for the server market and not the desktop market, so we don't expect many consumers to use them in their desktops.
UKGamer : You have talked about the reliability of your processors, is that one of the factors you look at before you "release" new processors into the market? Do you restrict the performance of your processors to achieve greater reliability?
Intel : Yes, if you look at previous processors we have released. If you look back to last year, we stopped the production of the Pentium 3 1.13Ghz because of reliability issues and things like that, so we take it very seriously. Our test labs will not release a product unless it's robust. When Intel ship a product on it's launch date, they ship hundreds of thousands, so we need to be sure it's reliable.
UKGamer : We've recently seen Intel systems at the CPL/CPL Europe events and on the whole, very few people have complained with the frames per second reached, however gamers are having to go with AMD based systems due to the price difference between Intel and AMD processors. Is there anything you will do to change this?
Intel : We've always been committed to the gaming community, and there are always benchmarks in which certain processors perform better than others. We cooperate with companies such as nVidia, ATI to make sure our engineers are working with them, so that not only does the Pentium 4 work great with the Geforce 3 but works well as a whole package.
UKGamer : Are Intel considering sponsoring more LAN events in the future? In the past AMD have sponsered to many large and small LAN events and are we going to see Intel taking a more active role in gaming?
Intel : I think there is a big difference between sponsoring a LAN and being in the gaming market. We've always worked closely with the game developers promoting hardware and software via web and retail. We look at the CPL and gaming leagues as another event or advertising campaign. We are still testing the water with this, and it might turn out to be a bottomless pit and we have to assess at what point we are just throwing our money away. We support the leading game developers such as Ubi Soft, Infograms with tuning, compiling and optimising and having a presence at shows like ECTS and CeBit.
UKGamer : Intel has historically been using the CISC architecture in their processors, will we ever see a RISC based processor from Intel in the near future?
Intel : Since the Pentium 2 more and more RISC features have gone into our processors and it's really become impossible to say our processors is pure CISC anymore. Our processors are far from being CISC. If you look at the architecture of the Pentium 4 you can't say it's CISC or RISC. If you look at the Itanium, it is based in the VLIW {Very Long Instruction Word} which is an innovation from Intel, it's really the next step after RISC.
UKGamer : Finally, Intel are very well known as a CPU manufacturer, however if AMD continue to grow is there any chance we could see Intel changing their processor roadmap because of changing market trends either caused by consumers or by other processor manufacturers?
Intel : First and foremost we don't make entire decisions as a company due to the result of competition, because competition can change from one day to the next. We are working on processors that will be released 5 years from now. We work heavily with OEMs and ask them what they need in 5 years time. They give us specific requirements, and we try and design processors from the feedback we get. Competition is more of a short term reaction, and if we base it on that we'll be shooting ourselves in the foot.
UKGamer : It seems that you acknowledge AMD have a good product but aren't worried because you have products in the pipeline, and some might say you are being cocky.
Intel : We have a great amount of faith in our product, we have thousands of employees, the guys that designed the microprocessor are still at the company and we have great relations with companies in the industry. So do have confidence, but we aren't cocky. There is a lot to be said about having a factory capacity that can crank out 100 million processors a year. If you look at our roadmap and compare it to others, you can see we are clearly pulling away from any competition.
UKGamer would like to thank Intel for their hospitality (especially letting us steal all the food on their stand), and for taking time out to answer these questions.