Since the dawn of Windows it has forever been linked with Intel. The two entities have been indispensable to each other for decades: the IBM PC clones craze of the 80s and 90s was completely run by DOS and Windows 95, all depending on the x86 architecture to run the software. Without the union of Intel and Windows, neither would have become the giants they are today. Indeed “Wintel”, as the union was referred to, has become the success story of the past 30 years. But time trudges on. AMD’s adoption of the x86 architecture pioneered by Intel now makes the phrase misleading (Winamd?) and numerous other architectures have become prevalent in the consumer space.
None is more synonymous with consumer electronics than Advanced RISC Machines – the ARM architecture that I so often speak of. Originally developed by Acorn as a RISC replacement for the legendary 6502 chip used in their computer line, the ARM architecture flourished after Apple teamed with Acorn to develop a low power, RISC solution for the Newton PDA in the 90s. The architecture has become the most widespread chip series in the world, featured in more devices than Intel, AMD, or IBM’s offerings due to their small power usage and massive scalability. Over the years, ARM has grown from a bare-bones architecture into a robust series of multi-use application processors. The “Cortex” series has brought multimedia power to smartphones, tablets and TVs, while legacy ARM parts find their ways into feature phones and game systems like the Nintendo DS. Continue Reading
Intel’s Core microarchitecure in the Core 2 line was a major win for Intel after years of falling behind to AMD. These processors were extremely successful at offering great performance, good power management, and nice scalability in clockspeed and core count. However, after 3 years or so, Core 2 has grown long in the tooth and Intel has since pushed it down into the budget segment. Replacing these venerable processors has been Intel’s Core i-series, which is a blanket marketing name for any processor built under Intel’s “Nehalem” microarchitecture. I’ve discussed the advances in Nehalem over Core before but to summarize, Nehalem brings the following new features: monolithic (single die) quad/hexa/octo-core processors; Dynamic Turbo Boost, which allows cores to shut down and speed up active cores; Hyperthreading, which allows one processor core to handle the work flow of two cores; L3 cache, which gives the processor more onboard memory to access for accuracy and less access to RAM; integrated memory controllers, which makes accessing memory much faster; and a new bus system, which connects the processor to other system services at a much faster pace. All of these technologies are meant to improve overall system performance and maximize data access over Core 2, which had a problem of often being starved for data because of system bottlenecks. Overall, Nehalem has become a powerhouse chip architecture that has no rival in the consumer space.
However, it’s not all roses with Nehalem. I’ve already lamented about how frustrating Intel’s processor naming scheme has become (that was one of my first articles), but Intel’s stratification doesn’t stop at the marketing name problems. See, under the blanket name of “Nehalem” are several sub-architectures that describe specific segmented chips for performance and cost differences. For example, any Core i7-900 series chip is built under the “Bloomfield” architecture, while the Core i7-800 series is the “Lynnfield” architecture. What’s the difference, you might ask? Bloomfield was released as the first Nehalem architecture and has two advantages over Lynnfield – a triple channel memory controller, and the use of Quickpath Interconnect (QPI), the new bus technology that Intel invented for the server (and eventually consumer) segment. Continue Reading