Intel has canceled plans to produce its Tejas processor, the successor to today's Prescott-based Pentium 4 chip.
Instead the company has moved up work on an as-yet-unnamed dual-core desktop processor it hopes to launch by 2005.
The surprise move shows Intel has embraced the idea that merely adding more megahertz to its processors is no longer the best way to boost performance, says Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of Microprocessor Report.
"Faster clocks speeds are just not the way to improve user experiences anymore," he says. "Tejas no longer made a lot of sense."
A dual-core chip should offer substantial performance gains and the new chip will be different enough from today's P4 to warrant a new name, he says.
The P4 isn't the only chip in for big changes. By the end of next year, Intel will have shifted all of its processor designs for everything from notebook chips to SMP (symmetric multiprocessor) servers to dual-core chips, says Bill Kircos, an Intel spokesperson. That means the company has also shelved plans to produce its next-generation single-core Xeon product code-named JayHawk.
Intel's original plans didn't have dual-core chips showing up until at least 2006.
Dual-core processors are just what they sound like: two processor cores on a single die. Chip designers have been gravitating toward this design because it allows them to use two lower-power cores to improve performance rather than depending on a single high-frequency core for performance improvements.
Intel says the decision to cancel Tejas and Jayhawk was not related to any engineering or manufacturing difficulties in getting those chips ready for volume production. However, analyst Krewell says that Prescott hasn't performed as well as the company had hoped, particularly in the area of power consumption, and he speculates that Tejas and Jayhawk may have had similar problems.
"Prescott certainly has been a disappointment," he says. "Going over 100 watts was counter to what people wanted from their PCs. They wanted quieter operation with fewer fans, and not more heat."
Intel's Kircos, though, says the company merely realized that it could accelerate the development of the dual-core products to the point where it made more business sense to head in that direction.
Sources close to the company have indicated that Intel is planning to shift its primary architecture from the Netburst one that currently runs the Xeon and Pentium 4 processors to the Banias architecture of the Pentium M processor. Banias consumes much less power than Netburst, and two Pentium M cores would be much easier to integrate on a single die than two Netburst cores, sources and analysts say.
However, one source familiar with the company's plans indicated Friday that the first dual-core Xeon DP processor would keep the Netburst architecture. Intel simply has too much investment wrapped up in the architecture that has served it well for so many years to dump it now, the source says.
Integrating two power-hungry Netburst cores on a single die represents an engineering challenge for Intel. But server vendors are reluctant to shift gears as quickly as PC vendors when it comes to introducing new products and would prefer to make the transition to dual cores without the additional burden of validating a new architecture, the source says.
Intel spokespeople decline to confirm what architecture will be used for either the new Xeon chip or the new desktop processor.
According to sources, the Yonah processor is expected to be the first dual-core Pentium chip designed for notebooks. It will be followed by Merom, which is expected to be either the second dual-core Pentium M processor for notebooks or the first dual-core processor for both desktops and notebooks.