Ruminations on the electronics industry from David Manners, Senior Components Editor on Electronics Weekly.
Kick-Ass (Intel’s Ass) Processor From Montalvo
If you go onto the Web-site of Montalvo Systems and click the ‘About Us’ button you read: ‘Montalvo Systems is a well funded fabless semiconductor start-up funded by prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firms’.
Not very informative. However, according to CNET, whose blogger is chief systems architect at Montalvo, the company has designed a microprocessor to rival the microprocessors from Intel and AMD. Montalvo’s chip is based, like the Cell microprocessor, on asymmetrical multicores. Meridian, Cyrix, Rise, Transmeta, and now Montalvo. It’s not been a very happy succession of challengers to Intel and AMD for a decent place in the x86 market. And Cell has not, until recently, been seen as a processor to execute the x86 instruction set. Developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, Cell was developed for fast graphics. At CES, however, Toshiba showed a Wintel notebook powered by four ‘Spurs Engines’ which is the name Toshiba has given to Cell as the Japanese company looks for more commercial applications for the Cell architecture. Now, along comes Montalvo, headed by a couple of formidable x86 cloners: Vinod Dham from NexGen, and Matt Perry who was CEO of Transmeta. The Montalvo management is said to have raised $70m. The Montalvo chip will run software written for x86 microprocessors, but will have various cores, some high performance, some low performance, so tasks which don’t need a lot of computing power can be done by the low-performance, less energy consuming, cores. And some tasks, which partly need high-performance and partly need low-performance cores for different segments of the task, can have these segments shuttled from high-performance to low-performance cores, and vice versa. Montalvo’s approach could allow it to make faster processors than Intel’s, or lower power processors than Intel’s. Now that Intel is trying to get increased performance from extra cores, rather than from higher frequencies, those options may not be so readily available to Intel which increasingly has to rely on clever software for increased performance. Intel’s multi-core chips have, of course, got similar cores, each designed for general purpose computing, which is a notoriously difficult way to get increased performance from multi-core architectures. So Montalvo may have spotted an opportunity. But so, of course, did Meridian, Cyrix, Rise and Transmeta. TOMORROW: TEN BEST THINGS AT MOBILE WORLD CONGRESSTags: AMD, Cell, cell architecture, computing power, Cyrix, decent place, IBM, Intel, Meridian, montalvo systems, Rise, sony, Toshiba, Transmeta, x86 microprocessors