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03 June 2013, 09:13

Processor Whispers: Of May and other cool things

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by Andreas Stiller

According to an old German saying, a cold and wet May makes for a good harvest. While it remains to be seen if this holds true for German farmers this year, it certainly was a very fruitful May for processor growers, and even more so for number herders.

Numerous new processors, some of which had not been expected before the start of June, have shot up from the ground like asparagus or have been dug up with little effort. And also for mathematicians interested in number theory, this year's May turned out to be quite merry indeed. Two proofs that mathematicians have long been searching for are now within reach: two of the four so-called Landau's problems that the German mathematician Edmund Landau announced as "unattackable at the present state of science" at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Cambridge in 1912.

While Yitang Zhang of the University of New Hampshire in Durham could not yet prove that there are infinitely many twin primes, he was able to show that there are infinitely many prime pairs whose separation is less than 70 million.

Two distributed computing projects (Twin Prime Search and PrimeGrid) have been putting a lot of computing power towards finding larger twin primes for years now. The current record (above 200,000 digits): 3,756,801,695,685 × 2666669 ± 1. In mid-May, a PrimeGrid participant discovered the, currently, largest known Fermat divisor with his quad-core Opteron 2374HE, a divisor of F2727497 with 827,082 digits.

On the same day, the Peruvian mathematician Harald Helfgott presented proof for the ternary Goldbach conjecture (also known as Goldbach's weak conjecture) from 1742, according to which every odd number greater than five is the sum of three primes. His proof, which is still being reviewed, is only valid for numbers larger than 1030, but the octillions of numbers below that had already been covered by – among others -- a distributed computing project for the binary Goldbach conjecture (or the strong Goldbach conjecture).

With computing power

With Intel's new Haswell processor we can verify that in no time. This number cruncher, with its AVX2 computing units, which can now also compute integers with 256 bits, as well as the two fast FMA pipelines, is predestined for that job. But watch out, even the 18-core version of the upcoming Haswell EX would still require some years to accomplish the above-mentioned task.

Rani Borkar
Intel's strong woman of processor architectures, Rani Borkar, previously contributed to the work on the Pentium 4.
Meanwhile, various desktop Haswells are not only on sale in China, but also, for example, at most internet shops in Germany. Intel isn't happy about it, but that's how it is. Before, Intel had announced a few more details about the Haswell processor in its usual salami approach – every month a thin slice of information. On May 23, World Conspiracy Day, Rani Borkar, the head of Intel's Architecture Group, presented Haswell's energy-saving prowess with extensive power gating and its voltage regulators, which are integrated into the housing. For the latter, you have to memorise a new four-letter acronym: FIVR, fully integrated voltage regulator.

All these technologies are supposed to improve battery life by a considerable 50% compared to systems equipped with its Ivy Bridge predecessors. Standby times are estimated to be improved by a factor of as much as 20.

Competitor AMD has lost the second position, behind Intel, in the ranking of top-selling microprocessor manufacturers. According to IC Insights, it now only ranks fourth with an annual turnover of $3.6 billion in the processor segment, behind the two ARM licence holders Qualcomm and Samsung (including Apple). In the last quarter, AMD's processor turnover was a mere $751 million, much less than what Intel makes with the Atom alone. This demonstrates the importance of the Jaguar as a competitive counterpart to the Atom for AMD. On May 21, Microsoft finally, officially outed itself as a Jaguar customer with the launch of its new video games console Xbox One. The worldwide response was, putting it mildly, restrained, not because of the hardware though, but rather because of Microsoft's business model.

The fertile spring soil also produced three new AMD APUs: Kabini, Temash and Richland. As with Intel's Haswell, we have already been able to buy the Temash with Jaguar cores as well as the Richland with Piledriver cores without any difficulties. Also ahead of Computex, AMD's server boss, Andrew Feldman, proudly presented the Jaguar in its Opteron outfit, code-named Kyoto. However, he only compared Kyoto with the old Atom-1200S Centerton, on a "we have twice as many cores" basis, and not with the Avoton with Silvermont architecture that is soon going to blossom, and which will have twice as many cores as the Jaguar (plus SATA, USB, 4-times Gbe etc.) Feldman could just have downloaded the details about the Avoton and its storage version Rangeley from Intel's download mirror site where two PDFs provided a detailed description of the customer reference board "Mohon Peak" for both processor versions. Strange enough though, ever since we told Intel about these documents, there has only been a "placeholder.txt" available there.

The merry month of May also revealed quite interesting side shoots among the Atom Clovertrail-equipped tablet crop. At least on the benchmark pages of AnTuTu and GFXBench, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 appeared as GT-P5200 without and GT-5210 with 3G – according to GFXBench equipped with Atom Clovertrail and PowerVR SGX 544MP. While this Tab 3 didn't do so well in GFXBench's OpenGL benchmark, in the AnTuTu benchmark its 24,616 points beat everything else in this device range.

Looking forward at the next Atom generation, Bay Trail for tablets, and, maybe even more exciting, Atom Merrifield for smartphones, this might be the beginning of a wonderful friendship between Intel and Samsung.

Processor Share 2012
Zoom Microprocessor Sales 2012
Source: IC Insights



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