IBM warms to heat maps, Intel cools Montecito

If there has been one common thread to statements from chip designers at ferocious competitors such as IBM and Intel, it's the need for more power-conscious processors heading into the second half of the decade. At the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, both companies released further details on their work to reduce the power, and therefore the heat, used by future chips.

IBM thought it had found a way to improve the predictability of heat dissipation from its chips with a new technique that allowed it to precisely identify hot spots on a working chip, researchers said. And the next version of Intel's Itanium 2 processor for high-end servers, Montecito, would consume less power than its predecessor, despite the addition of a second processing core and faster clock speeds, the company said.

IBM and Intel are two of the pre-eminent chip companies presenting at ISSCC, which gathers some of the brightest minds in chip design to review the progress of their peers.

Several advances detailed at the conference are far-off research projects that have little relevance to average users, such as a project that strives to connect silicon chips with snail neurons. But IBM, Intel and the rest of the industry's work on reducing power is becoming more and more important to IT managers struggling to cool large racks of servers or notebook users hoping to lighten their loads.

IBM had developed an infrared heatsink that it could use to map the heat dissipation of a processor while it was fully operational, manager for photonics and thermal systems at IBM Research, Hendrik Hamman, said.

A heatsink is used to quickly remove excess heat from a processor to prevent it from shutting down.

Previous attempts at measuring heat dissipation involved taking static readings from a limited number of heat sensors placed on the chip, he said. The new heatsink allows IBM to measure the power consumption, and heat dissipation, of sections of a chip as its workload changes with different application tasks.

The idea was to allow IBM to build models based on the data collected by its heatsink, and to use that data to design future processors and cooling strategies that anticipated shifts in heat based on the chip's workload, Hamman said. The company could also change the supply power.

"For every workload, there's going to be a specific power distribution," Hamman said. Previous attempts at building heat maps were just snapshots in time that didn't accurately reflect changing workloads or cooling strategies, he said.

IBM's infrared heatsink could be used on just about any processor to produce real-time maps of heat dissipation, Hamman said.

Intel's abrupt departure from its desktop processor road map last year was evidence of how important power consumption and heat have become in the PC market. The company canceled future high-speed Pentium 4 chips, which would have required significant engineering to work around the excessive heat produced by clock speeds above 4GHz.

The server market has been less concerned with power consumption historically, but that is changing as IT managers are hit with rising bills for electricity and cooling systems in their data centers.

Intel's Montecito Itanium 2 chip is designed for extremely heavy workloads that require intensive floating-point performance. The 1.72 billion transistors on the dual-core Montecito processor would have consumed as much as 300 watts of power had Intel not implemented several power-saving technologies, the company said.

Montecito will consume 100 watts of power at clock speeds of at least 2GHz, Intel said. Older single-core Itanium 2 processors consumed 130 watts of power while operating at slower clock speeds.

Montecito's improved power consumption is due to technologies such as Foxton, a previously disclosed power-management feature that allows the chip to adjust the amount of power flowing into the processor, as well as the chip's clock speed depending on the application workload. Intel also improved its power-consumption sensors on Montecito to provide the chip with enough data to activate the frequency and power-adjustment technologies.

Intel will release Montecito to Itanium server vendors toward the end of 2005.

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