Intel's New Processor a Hit

Video editors welcome Pentium's successor
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Video editors welcome Pentium's successor

LOS ANGELES

Rarely has any technology introduction been greeted with as much enthusiasm as the new Core 2 Duo from Intel, the replacement for its venerable Pentium line of processors.

"Not since Intel introduced the Pentium processor has the industry seen the heart of the computer reinvented like this," said Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Intel at the Core 2 launch in late July. "The Core 2 Duo desktop processor is an energy-efficient marvel, packing 291 million transistors yet consuming 40 percent lower power, while delivering the performance needed for the applications of today and tomorrow."

This new chip should not be confused with the Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors built into the new Mac Pro workstation unveiled by Apple at its World Wide Developer's Conference last month, according to Dr. Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research, a multimedia and computer graphics market research firm in Tiburon, Calif.

"The Core 2 Duo is a dual processor on a single die design. With this introduction, Intel has closed the gap in price and performance with their arch rival Advanced Micro Devices," Peddie said. "The Core 2 Duo is a chip that will be widely welcomed by all professional graphics creators and video editors."

Previously known only by its internal code-name of "Conroe," the Core 2 Duo line of processors consists of five models: the 2.93 GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800 at the top end; the 2.67 GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 and 2.4 GHz E6600 mainstream applications; and the 2.13 GHz E6400 and 1.86 GHz E6300 for the entry-level market.

Its architecture emphasizes performance more than pure clock speed by running at 2 to 3 GHz compared to the Pentium 4's 3 to 4 GHz, but the Core 2 Duo can still scale better in frequency than the Pentium M.

Built using Intel's 65-nanometer silicon process technology, the desktop PC version of the Core 2 Duo processor provides up to a 40-percent increase in performance over the Pentium D and a 20 percent boost compared to its major competitors, AMD's Athlon 64 and Athlon FX processors. Having shipped its new chips even before the July 27 announcement, Intel claims that more than 550 customer system designs are already geared toward using the Core 2 Duo processors, which is the most in its history, according to Intel.

The first mainstream workstation manufacturer to ship a system with the new Intel chip was HP, whose HP xw4400 Workstation containing the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme processor and 975X Express chipset started shipping in early August.

POWERFUL EDITING

In the high-end professional video production field, one of the early adopters of Intel's new dual core/single chip design has been NVIDIA Corp., a leader in programmable graphics processor technologies. Even by launch time, NVIDIA had already rewritten its unified ForceWare multithreaded driver on Windows, Linux or Macintosh O/S to support the Core 2 Duo processors.

"Since we were working with Intel prior to launch, all of our cards now support the Core 2 Duo right out of the box," said Peter Sheerin, the technical marketing manager for workstation product reviews at NVIDIA. "Our ForceWare driver takes advantage of the new chip's dual cores to transfer data over the PCI-Xpress bus to optimize the GPU's operation and memory management."

Sony is actively running benchmark tests with this new multi-threaded, 64-bit chip.

"The instructions are different from the ones needed for the Pentium design," said Hugo Gaggioni, chief technology officer for the broadcast and professional division of Sony Electronics, "so our professional applications that run mostly on Linux will need new code for the new Core 2 Duo chip. It will make them much faster and more powerful. It's not as computationally intensive as our 8-processor Cell chip developed in conjunction with Toshiba and IBM and used in our PlayStation 3, but the Core 2 Duo offers significant improvements over the previous Pentium."

Avid Technology is also looking forward to incorporating the new processor into its DNA (digital nonlinear accelerator) system.

"Avid's hardware accelerators are designed to take advantage of faster chips and to provide incremental performance on top of the CPU and GPU," said Matt Feury, senior product marketing manager at Avid. "So as chips such as the Core 2 Duo come to market, we expect our hardware acceleration performance to improve as well."

The Leitch Business Unit of the Harris Broadcast Division will be releasing its VelocityNX NLE in November using AMD's dual Opteron processing. But according to Rich Green, product manager for editing at Leitch, "we are also investigating the Core 2 Duo chips, which we believe in theory should allow us to process 40 percent faster, bringing real-time HD editing and effects closer to reality. So I feel that by around NAB2007, all of the Velocity based products for servers/post will be shipping with versions that can utilize this technology."

Autodesk had been using both AMD and Intel chips on its original IRIX-based SGI platforms that were historically multiprocessor architectures, so their highly threaded software has always been able to take advantage of boosts in processing speed.

"It's not just the advances in multicore design that is important to us, it's the expansion of the whole memory architecture on high-end workstations that is crucial to our software," said Bill Roberts, director of product management for Autodesk Media and Entertainment. "That is absolutely essential to anyone building a sophisticated real-time editing and effects system. We are now seeing the advent of interactive 2K workstations on both Windows and Linux and these new Core 2 Duo chips are giving us the performance we used to achieve on the Onyx platforms."

The new chip should also increase the customer base for the Canopus line of Edius NLEs from Grass Valley, according to Brandon Higa, product marketing engineer for the Nevada City, Calif.-based company.

"Now that we've made the move to HD editing with our Windows-based systems, the only limit to our scalable compression technology is processing. But like anything innovative on the processor side, with these new chips it will take a bit of time before we'll reach a status quo level of functionality," he said.

The post-production systems from Quantel have always benefited from hardware advances especially as demand for real time HD editing increases.

"We're obviously looking forward to the extra performance the Core 2 Duo will bring," said George Catlow, R&D group leader. "The Core 2 Duo should bring the same power to the journalists' and producers' server-connected standard desktop computers for editing HD video in a newsroom with the same speed and facility that they can handle SD today."

TARGETING LAPTOPS

Intel said that many of the principles behind the Core 2 Duo came from developments in mobile computing.

"The same design team that came up with the Centrino chip for laptops went back to the drawing board to create the Core 2 Duo," said Dan Snyder, technical PR manager for Intel Corp. "Getting more performance with less power consumption almost defies the laws of physics, but this new architecture was designed from the ground up for all the high end encode/decode processes needed for professional digital content creation."

AMD has responded by cutting the price on some of its chips by up to 50 percent. Just before the Intel release of the Core 2 duo, AMD said it was paying $5.4 billion to purchase top graphics chipmaker ATI Technologies Inc. to expand its product portfolio. They followed up this announcement by introducing its next generation AMD Opteron processor which will include the introduction of AMD Virtualization technology and a seamless upgrade path from dual-core to quad-core processing.