HyperThreading, Hammer, and Hot Peppers

By Nils Dahl

Date: February 21, 2003

The HyperThreading P4 is a design that offers a simple but effective cure for media handling.

BeOS was a great operating system for showing movies with audio. It was a FreeBSD core with special task priority features that guaranteed the best possible performance for media tasks. But under a heavy media load, BeOS' user interface simply got too sluggish to be acceptable. Updating the cursor could take many seconds.

The P4 cures this by allowing one virtual processor to take over the basic user interface updating while the other virtual processor is devoted full time to streaming the media files. Of course the OS has to have a specific design for handling tasks - and that is the core of Microsoft's new OS - coming very late this year in a working beta. By then, Intel will have changed over all of its P4 fabs to the current design and be cranking out the new Prescott that will serve as a "high end performance choice priced at a high premium." Mike Magee's report on Prescott's new instructions clearly shows that trend. Prescott adds 13 instructions that are aimed directly at improving media file handling and task management.

AMD is stuck with the single processor model and so will be effectively locked out of the performance world that is coming. But this is a world aimed at the mass market only. There is no evidence that the consumer market will buy the new media-oriented playground OS and hardware in sufficient volume to make a difference. time will tell.

Please keep this in mind. It would be absurdly easy to design a card that contained all the logic required to handle the media playback but this does not fit in with Bill Gates' childlike notions of turning a general purpose computer into a household appliance. Bill knows very little about computers. His background began when he and Paul Allen "borrowed" the BASIC code from the college DEC computer and reverse engineered it for the Intel 8085, creating the original BASIC that became CBASIC, the core product of Microsoft prior to their IBM contract to deliver a DOS for the IBM PC.

So the future is going to keep on being interesting. For me, growing older is changing my computer goals dramatically. I can see myself running a back end database server on a Microtel Centaur system just for a low cost, low power information machine that feeds a decent speed front end client machine - most likely an nForce 2 with a slower Athlon. I no longer aspire to play with fractals, graphic design, or digital music as I did years ago. The front end machine effectively becomes a very fancy display driving system and handles email. Since Microsoft insists on charging a high premium for all networking capabilities, Linux is the only solution for me. I have no intention of paying for XP Professional and servers and networking support just to run a dual system linked by Ethernet as a home information system. I might even get decent performance from one system - and avoid a few headaches.

So my first system purchase will be based on an Epox 8RDA+ motherboard. Why? The nForce 2 has the best Linux support, 1394a support, and the other things I need for basic uses of all kinds. Video support for the system may be a bit of a hassle but not of major importance. I can even move my Matrox Mystique 220 video card over or find a spare one of those to get sharp display images.

Meanwhile, the new AMD Athlon line will work well for the more prestigious commercial uses - farms of frame generators for animated movies and 3D effects projects. Business workstations that need a bit of fast graphics to generate charts will work fine on Athlons also.

The P4 is aimed mainly at a perceived consumer market that has DSL and wants to view downloaded digital movies under Palladium. You have to ask yourself just how many DVD movies you can rent at Blockbuster for the price of a new P4 system with Microsoft OS and DSL connection and proposed viewing fees and all the other costs - all while being limited to a computer monitor display until the media giants get digital TV secured against interception of digital movie data streams.

And when that happens, the cable and dish people can easily market a high volume alternative that is much simpler to use and that costs far less than Bill G's very, very complex plaything system.

Hey, Bill lives in a house that has millions in digital systems in place - systems that don't work all that well. He just wants his playpen to work right. Once you understand this case of retarded development as Bill's mindset, you can see what is behind all those failed experiments in marketing gross overkill products.

Do you need any snow in Round Rock? We have plenty. I can't see the street that is 20 feet from my front door.

And then there is the Hammer series. Buried deep inside my articles for Van's Hardware are all the answers for the future. In plain English. For those who can abandon their preconceived notions and just understand plain English. Few people can do that.

Hammer is a whole new distributed processing design that is reduced to commodity processor level, a design that not only exists but is working in IBM's better systems already. Hammer simply implements the needed memory architecture and inter-node communications less expensively.

So Hammer takes off in 2-3 years when the bugs are resolved and is fully capable of overwhelming anything Intel is equipped to deliver. Now Intergraph was making systems almost equal to Hammer, using Intel parts, until Wintel killed the Intergraph hardware and software support capability. It was embarrassing to see Intergraph doing far more than Intel could with the same generic chips.

Politics - Microsoft cannot and never will be able to support the capabilities that Hammer offers right now. So AMD officially cannot let people like me continue to talk about the full 64-bit native mode implications. I respect their right to mismanage their own future all by themselves. But I had a lot of fun.

And now, curiously, IBM is taking over the Hammer production. What a co-incidence. I will not bore anyone with attempts to explain the fundamental differences between Intel's designs and AMD's new Hammer because it is esoteric stuff that just is way beyond the grasp of most people. And the Hammer design will change as experience shows where things need tweaking.

Intel's designs, all of them, are based on a very simple SMP notion that just doesn't scale at all. It is firms like Sun and IBM that can build distributed memory systems and communications buses that link nodes together effectively.

Intel will always be a mass market maker of low end stuff. If they try doing anything fancy, they will lose Sun as a customer and IBM will just haul its old stuff out of the labs, stuff that was superior to Intel's many years ago. Remember that IBM's midrange line is based on the Motorola 68000 and the PowerPC descendants that handled large memory sizes far better than Intel's current chips do (except perhaps for the next Itanium, coming real soon).

IBM uses Xeon cartridges as data multiplexing subsystems in mainframe data channel controllers. Routers, basically. That's about all that Intel's best production technology is useful for at IBM.

That is enough tech stuff. I am changing. I decided to plan meals that were based on weekly sale items at the local food stores. The major chain's store failed to stock certain specials so I am now shopping at a tiny family run store that sells for less AND has specials in stock all the time. I pay less and get more. Ground sirloin at $2.09 per pound. Nice. Cooked on a GE indoor grill from Wal-Mart. So with 3 feet of snow on the ground, I can still have bacon cheeseburgers for lunch. And the smell lingers all day.

If only I lived in a year round outdoor climate. But Honolulu is so expensive. And crowded. I suppose that Corpus Christi offers year round grilling outside, but it's a bit too sandy for me.

And Padre Island, now a National Seashore, probably even bans heavy breathing.

So things change. I see VIA has chosen to update its chipset offerings for the new Nehemiah-C3. The CLE266 has a new integrated graphics core and supports DDR SDRAM and 1394a.

On second thought, I might choose such a system first. I have no use for games anyway.

Now I was going to propose a C3 chipset supporting a 400 MHz interleaved memory system with Intel "standard" SMP processor sharing it -- 2 or 4 -- as a very nice basic server for small businesses, particularly if UDMA support handles RAID hard drive arrays well…

VIA should consider options that might get them out of the low profit commodity situation they now are in. When China begins cranking out processors in volume, lots of things will change dramatically.

And India already has customized Pentiums in production for its own internal projects - exporting is banned.

In Mexico, there is a super hot pepper grown. It is called Tepin, a tiny red pepper that is reputed to be the hottest in the world. Word of caution: Tepin is so hot that it really should not be handled by bare skin in any form, fresh or dried. It is a long season pepper, requiring some 4 months to begin producing mature peppers. I want to cross breed Tepin to other peppers (can't quite give up my notion of a doctorate in plant breeding that I almost finished).

So what is going to happen next in the continuing barrage of feverish world events? Watch the news. Maybe even this weekend.

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