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Feelies with Intel's Mr Banias

Truth or dare

Microprocessor Forum Mooly Eden, the director of Intel's Israel Mobile Platform Group, dared us to see how cool the Banias mobile chip really is yesterday, in the queue for salad.

"Would you touch it?" he asked.

The machine, a Banias test rig has been on for at least an hour, we reckoned. It wasn't being taxed by its demo, but nevertheless, we don't go around touching Intel processors for fun. "Go on, touch it!"

Finally Intel had a chance not only for revenge for years of ribbing, but to brand us permanently, we thought.

But touch it we did, and guess what? It was as cold as an iceberg.

So Banias is cool and Mooly's a riot. He uses proscribed Register words, including "Screaming SIMD" instructions, but not, we presume, "Itanic". It must be a lot of fun over there. Mooly heads 600 staff and explains that much of the motivation for Banias comes from members of the Timna team.

Timna, you'll recall, was the integrated duck a l'orange , oops system-on-a-chip that was intended to create low costs systems. This canard failed to quack, and instead croaked a couple of years ago.

Mooly said that wasn't because it was a technical failure, but there simply wasn't a business case. Memory proved to be too expensive. However the Timna team were determined to prove the jesters wrong.

Ground-up Banias

Eden unpeeled some more Banias details yesterday. It's a platform, not a chip he said. The first chips will have a 400Mhz bus, and come in two flavors of chipset: Odem, which includes support 4xAGP, and Montara-GM, which has integrated graphics support. Both include integrated 802.11a/b networking, called Calexico. The first generation debuts in the first half of next year at 0.13 micron and will be superseded by 0.09 micron processors at … well, the arrow on his PowerPoint slide points to Christmas 2003.

Eden said that better branch prediction algorithms had reduced mispredictions by 20 per cent.

More interestingly, he described how a voltage regulator shuts down different portions of the CPU according to demand. For example, when there's a cache miss, the execution unit is shut down, because the microprocessor knows it's not going to be used for a few cycles.

The CPU also issues a sleep command, and the chipset will snoop the bus and wake it up two clocks in advance, when it knows there's data arriving. You can find his presentation [5MB PDF] here.


Mooly told us it was reasonable to expect blade manufacturers to incorporate Banias. No, he told The Register, it didn't support SMP at the moment, but they weren't ruling anything out.

"Not in the first generation in the family. We look at all kinds of techniques but we're not initially supporting it."

We told him we'd like to see a low power, low cost SMP since Intel hasn't offered one of these since it disabled SMP support from the PIII Celeron family after the 533Mhz iteration. People still run these, and they're very popular.

Intel insists that its current offerings trump anything Transmeta has to offer both on power and performance. It also says PIII-M continues to pick up the lion's share of design wins. However the Crusoe has a long and growing list of licensees, and features in several new Tablet designs. Tablet OEMs seem to like Crusoe a lot. So why, a fellow journalist asked, did Transmeta keep picking up these design wins.

Mooly said it wasn't just for technical reasons. Ah, we joked: perhaps Transmeta using its financial might to bully little Intel out of the mobile market?

This gag went down faster than a Banias CPU instruction unit after a SLEEP command. ®

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