Intel, AMD multicore chip sales may be slowed by software

Virtualization fills gap while software industry struggles to catch up with Intel, AMD advances

"It's a new level of scalability," he said. "It's enabled us to really reduce our footprint in the data center. It's reduced our cooling costs. It's giving us less physical servers to manage. The maintenance contracts are cheaper. We're using fewer network portals because we have fewer machines."

And the lack of multi-threaded software certainly hasn't slowed the development of multicore processors by the world's top chipmakers.

Just this month, Intel released its new Xeon 7400 server processor series, which includes six-core technology, a new high-water mark in the semiconductor industry.

And while the step from quad-core to six-core processors is a big one, it's slated to be quickly trumped by Intel.

Eight-core versions of the company's next generation chip, dubbed Nehalem, are expected to go into production during 2009. The first releases of the Nehalem chip family are slated to be quad-core server chips slated to ship in the fourth quarter of this year.

At the same time, Advanced Micro Devices, still far behind rival Intel in producing more than quad core chips, has released its road map for pushing the processor envelope.

The company expects to ship its six-core Istanbul server processor in the second half of 2009 and a 12-core server processor during the first half of 2010.

And IBM is building supercomputers that run the eight-core Cell chip, which the company jointly developed with Sony and Toshiba to run large computations on Sony's PlayStation 3 video game system.

Possibly the farthest reaching project is underway in labs where Intel engineers are working on an 80-core processor. The company showed off the technology at a conference in early 2007.

Though there have been no publicly announced plans to actually build it, analysts say the research into an 80-core chip is a hint of the future -- possible the not-so-distant future.

"You know, at this point, everyone knows we're going to go up with the multicores -- quads to six, to eight, to 12 cores," said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat.

"The road maps are out there for multiple cores," he added, allowing IT managers to start planning to take advantage of the technology. "We know the track the technology is taking. This is an evolutionary cycle."

McGregor said he expects to see 16 cores on a chip within 18 months to two years. He noted that the chip making industry is almost to the point where it is doubling the number of cores on processors every two years.

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