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Manufacturer: Intel

The Intel HD Graphics are joined by Iris

Intel gets a bad wrap on the graphics front.  Much of it is warranted but a lot of it is really just poor marketing about the technologies and features they implement and improve on.  When AMD or NVIDIA update a driver or fix a bug or bring a new gaming feature to the table, they are sure that every single PC hardware based website knows about and thus, that as many PC gamers as possible know about it.  The same cannot be said about Intel though - they are much more understated when it comes to trumpeting their own horn.  Maybe that's because they are afraid of being called out on some aspects or that they have a little bit of performance envy compared to the discrete options on the market. 

Today might be the start of something new from the company though - a bigger focus on the graphics technology in Intel processors.  More than a month before the official unveiling of the Haswell processors publicly, Intel is opening up about SOME of the changes coming to the Haswell-based graphics products. 

We first learned about the changes to Intel's Haswell graphics architecture way back in September of 2012 at the Intel Developer Forum.  It was revealed then that the GT3 design would essentially double theoretical output over the currently existing GT2 design found in Ivy Bridge.  GT2 will continue to exist (though slightly updated) on Haswell and only some versions of Haswell will actually see updates to the higher-performing GT3 options.  

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In 2009 Intel announced a drive to increase graphics performance generation to generation at an exceptional level.  Not long after they released the Sandy Bridge CPU and the most significant performance increase in processor graphics ever.  Ivy Bridge followed after with a nice increase in graphics capability but not nearly as dramatic as the SNB jump.  Now, according to this graphic, the graphics capability of Haswell will be as much as 75x better than the chipset-based graphics from 2006.  The real question is what variants of Haswell will have that performance level...

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I should note right away that even though we are showing you general performance data on graphics, we still don't have all the details on what SKUs will have what features on the mobile and desktop lineups.  Intel appears to be trying to give us as much information as possible without really giving us any information. 

Read more on Haswell's new graphics core here.

Possible power supply issues for Intel Haswell CPUs

Subject: Cases and Cooling, Processors | May 1, 2013 - 03:07 PM |
Tagged: power supply, Intel, idle, haswell, c7, c6

I came across an interesting news story posted by The Tech Report this morning that dives into the possibility of problems with Intel's upcoming Haswell processors and currently available power supplies.  Apparently, the new C6 and C7 idle power states that give the new Haswell architecture benefits for low power scenarios place a requirement of receiving a 0.05 amps load on the 12V2 rail.  (That's just 50 milliamps!)  Without that capability, the system can exhibit unstable behavior and a quick look at the power supply selector on Intel's own website is only listing a couple dozen that support the feature. 

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This table from VR-Zone, the source of the information initially, shows the difference between the requirements for 3rd (Ivy Bridge) and 4th generation (Haswell) processors.  The shift is an order of magnitude and is quite a dramatic change for PSU vendors.  Users of Corsair power supplies will be glad to know that among those listed with support on the Intel website linked above were mostly Corsair units!

A potential side effect of this problem might be that motherboard vendors simply disable those sleep states by default.  I don't imagine that will be a problem for PC builders anyway since most desktop users aren't really worried about the extremely small differences in power consumption they offer.  For mobile users and upcoming Haswell notebook designs the increase in battery life is crucial though and Intel has surely been monitoring those power supplies closely. 

I asked our in-house power supply guru, Lee Garbutt, who is responsible for all of the awesome power supply reviews on pcper.com, what he thought about this issue.  He thinks the reason more power supplies don't support it already is for power efficiency concerns:

Most all PSUs have traditionally required "some load" on the various outputs to attain good voltage regulation and/or not shut down. Not very many PSUs are designed yet to operate with no load, especially on the critical +12V output. One of the reasons for this is efficiency. Its harder to design a PSU to operate correctly with a very low load AND to deliver high efficiency. It would be easy just to add some bleed resistance across the DC outputs to always have a minimal load to keep voltage regulation under control but then that lowers efficiency.

Source: Tech Report

Intel and Vint Cerf are both talking up SDN

Subject: General Tech | April 18, 2013 - 12:35 PM |
Tagged: vint cerf, Intel, sdn, software defined networking, tha internets, open network summit, Seacliff Trail

Vint Cerf has been talking about the current topic on the minds of many network admins, software defined networking, sometimes referred to as smart networks.  While his original design was great at providing much cheaper connectivity than telcos, with the entire network being effectively dumb and not requiring any expensive routing equipment during transfer, that benefit is no longer as compelling as it used to be.  Moving from a model of only having routing equipment at the very edge of your network to placing equipment en route can offer advantages to security, speed and reliability.  He is quick to bring up a topic that is near and dear to anyone working in infrastructure; no matter how smart the equipment is, if there are no established standards which can operate between vendors and protocols then we will be worse off than we are now.

One company that has the power to bring SDN to the market and do so with enough backing to create standards and enforce them is Intel.  They are also at the Open Network Summit and are presenting their plans for SDN, virtual switches and even physical hardware.  Over at The Register you can see some of the slides that they presented along with information on new chipsets and ASICs that have been developed by Intel for use in a variety of networking applications.

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"As you get to the point where you want to have something big happen, spend some time working on getting agreement on standards,” Cerf is quoted as saying. Standards encourage innovation because everyone can work to the standard, as “happened in the creation of the Internet—and these standards often create a certain amount of stability.

“Stability is your friend in networking environments. If you can’t rely on some stable point in the architecture, you’ll have some trouble in making things work reliably."

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Source: The Register

Intel Talks Haswell Overclocking at IDF Beijing

Subject: Processors | April 17, 2013 - 09:48 PM |
Tagged: overclocking, intel ivr, intel hd graphics, Intel, haswell, cpu

During the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, China the X86 chip giant revealed details about how overclocking will work on its upcoming Haswell processors. Enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the new chips do not appear to be any more restrictive than the existing Ivy Bridge processors as far as overclocking. Intel has even opened up the overclocking capabilities slightly by allowing additional BCLK tiers without putting aspects such as the PCI-E bus out of spec.

The new Haswell chips have an integrated voltage regulator, which allows programmable voltage to both the CPU, Memory, and GPU portions of the chip. As far as overclocking the CPU itself, Intel has opened up the Turbo Boost and is allowing enthusiasts to set an overclocked Turbo Boost clockspeed. Additionally, Intel is specifying available BCLK values of 100, 125, and 167MHz without putting other systems out of spec (they use different ratios to counterbalance the increased BCLK, which is important for keeping the PCI-E bus within ~100Mhz). The chips will also feature unlocked core ratios all the way up to 80 in 100MHz increments. That would allow enthusiasts with a cherry-picked chip and outrageous cooling to clock the chip up to 8GHz without overclocking the BCLK value (though no chip is likely to reach that clockspeed, especially for everyday usage!).

Remember that the CPU clockspeed is determined by the BCLK value times a pre-set multiplier. Unlocked processors will allow enthusiasts to adjust the multiplier up or down as they please, while non-K edition chips will likely only permit lower multipliers with higher-than-default multipliers locked out. Further, Intel will allow the adventurous to overclock the BLCK value above the pre-defined 100, 125, and 167MHz options, but the chip maker expects most chips will max out at anywhere between five-to-seven percent higher than normal. PC Perspective’s Morry Teitelman speculates that slightly higher BCLK overclocks may be possible if you have a good chip and adequate cooling, however.

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Similar to current-generation Ivy Bridge (and Sandy Bridge before that) processors, Intel will pack Haswell processors with its own HD Graphics pGPU. The new HD Graphics will be unlocked and the graphics ratio will be able to scale up to a maximum of 60 in 50MHz steps for a potential maximum of 3GHz. The new processor graphics cards will also benefit from Intel’s IVR (programmable voltage) circuitry. The HD Graphics and CPU are fed voltage from the integrated voltage regulator (IVR), and is controlled by adjusting the Vccin value. The default is 1.8V, but it supports a recommended range of 1.8V to 2.3V with a maximum of 3V.

Finally, Intel is opening up the memory controller to further overclocking. Intel will allow enthusiasts to overclock the memory in either 200MHz or 266MHz increments, which allows for a maximum of either 2,000MHz or 2,666MHz respectively. The default voltage will depend on the particular RAM DIMMs you use, but can be controlled via the Vddq IVR setting.

It remains to be seen how Intel will lock down the various processor SKUs, especially the non-K edition chips, but at least now we have an idea of how a fully-unlocked Haswell processor will overclock. On a positive note, it is similar to what we have become used to with Ivy Bridge, so similar overclocking strategies for getting the most out of processors should still apply with a bit of tweaking. I’m interested to see how the integration of the voltage regulation hardware will affect overclocking though. Hopefully it will live up to the promises of increased efficiency!

Are you gearing up for a Haswell overhaul of your system, and do you plan to overclock?

Source: AnandTech

Otellini's last quarter

Subject: General Tech | April 17, 2013 - 12:44 PM |
Tagged: Intel, otellini, earnings

The downturn in the PC market has depressed the earnings of Intel during Paul Otellini's last quarter as head of the company, but not as badly as many companies thanks to decent sales of data centre products.   Their overall earnings are down $1bn from this quarter last year with their PC sales down 6.6% but their data centre sales up 7.5% when compared to Q1 2012.  The numbers are not so rosy when you look at the last year of sales, PC down 6% and data centre down 6.9%, in line with expectations but far from good news.  Intel has come a long way since 1974 when he first joined the company but even they are not immune to the decline in sales which has been hurting the industry recently.  Get the full sales numbers at The Register.

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"After 39 years at Chipzilla and over 80 earnings calls Paul Otellini has just finished his final one before stepping down in May. He didn't so much leave with a bang as a whimper.

The company booked $12.6bn in revenue for Q1 2013, down nearly a billion from the last quarter, and profits dropped 25 per cent to $2bn, over half of which will be given out as a dividend and another $553m used to buy back 25 million Intel shares. The results were broadly in line with analyst's expectations and Intel stock is up slightly in late trading."

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Source: The Register

Gigabyte Shows Off SFF BRIX PC During Its New Idea Tech Tour

Subject: Systems | April 15, 2013 - 05:47 PM |
Tagged: SFF, Intel, gigabyte, brix

The WindForce 450W GPU cooler was not the only piece of hardware Gigabyte showed off at its New Idea Tech Tour event in Berlin, Germany. The company also detailed a new small form factor PC called BRIX. The Gigabyte BRIX computer is set to compete with Zotac's Nano and Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) PCs. There is no word on pricing or availability, but GIgabyte did delve into specifications of the tiny desktop PCs.

Gigabyte BRIX Small Form Factor Mini PC Debuted At New Idea Tech Tour In Berlin (2).jpg

Computerbase.de was on hand at the New Idea event in Berlin.

The Gigabyte BRIX PC is similar to Intel's NUC with a small motherboard, Intel CPU, mSATA connector for storage, Mini PCI-E slot for a Wi-Fi card, and a small case. The BRIX system is slightly smaller than both the NUC and Zotac's Nano systems, though the BRIX motherboard itself is a bit larger than the NUC's. The BRIX motherboard measures 100 x 105mm and the case with internals measures 114.8 x 108 x 29.5mm and weighs 404 grams.

Gigabyte BRIX Small Form Factor Mini PC Debuted At New Idea Tech Tour In Berlin (1).jpg

Internal specifications on the BRIX include an Intel ultrabook-class processor with sub-17W TDPs, two SO-DIMM slots (a maximum of 16GB at 1600MHz), one mSATA port, and one Mini PCI-E slot. The BRIX further comes with a Wi-Fi card and VESA mount. Processor options include:

  • Intel Celeron 1007U
  • Intel Core i3-3227U
  • Intel Core i5-3337U
  • Intel Core i7-3537U

The top-end Core i7-3537U gives you a dual core processor with hyper-threading clocked at 2GHz and 3.1GHz max turbo and 4MB cache. Pretty impressive for such a tiny PC!
The Gigabyte BRIX features a single USB 3.0 port on the front of the glossy black case. Rear IO includes an additional USB 3.0 port, one HDMI port, one DisplayPort video output, and a single Gigabit LAN port.

The Gigabyte BRIX looks to be a decent system that will give Zotac and Intel some needed small form factor competition. Here's hoping Gigabyte will allow custom cases, as I would love to see a passively-cooled option!

Computerbase.de has further details on the Gigabyte BRIX PC as well as a gallery of photos from the event.

Source: Gigabyte

100W over USB

Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2013 - 01:20 PM |
Tagged: usb. power over USB, Intel

A new type of USB cable is being demonstrated in Beijing, capable of delivering up to 100W of power over USB 2.0 or 3.0.  In the demonstration below, the Dell provides both video and power to the monitor when it is plugged in, when on battery it immediately shuts off the monitor.  Even better these cords are bidirectional and are able to sense which device requires power and which is the source of the power so you won't have to manually configure them.  The Inquirer does point out a major hurdle to overcome, if one singular USB cord able to recharge the battery of any laptop, many laptop makers will see that as taking away one of their revenue streams; their proprietary power bricks and expensive replacement parts.

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"BEIJING: THE USB IMPLEMENTERS FORUM (USB-IF) is showing off a prototype USB cable system at the Technology Showcase at IDF Beijing that can deliver up to 100W of power."

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Source: The Inquirer

Intel Announces New Atom SoCs for Low Power Server, Networking, and Storage Hardware

Subject: Processors | April 11, 2013 - 08:45 PM |
Tagged: s12x9, Intel, idf, atom

In addition to Intel's announcement of new Xeon processors, the company is launching three new Atom-series processors for servers later this year. The new processor lineups include the Intel Atom S12x9 family for storage applications, Rangeley processors for networking gear, and Avoton SoCs for low-power micro-servers.

Intel Atom Inside Logo.jpg

The Intel Atom S12x9 family takes the existing S1200 processors and makes a few tweaks to optimize the SoCs for storage servers and other storage appliances. For reference, the Intel Atom S1200 series of processors feature sub-9W TDPs, 1MB of cache, and two physical CPU cores clocked at up to 2GHz. However, Intel did not list the individual S12x9 SKUs or specifications, so it is unknown if they will also be clocked at up to 2GHz. The new Atom S12x9 processors will feature 40 PCI-E 2.0 lanes (26 Root Port and 16 Non-Transparent Bridge) to provide ample bandwidth between I/O and processor. The SoCs also feature hardware RAID acceleration, Native Dual-Casting, and Asynchronous DRAM Self-Refresh. Native Dual-Casting allows data to be read from one source and written to two memory locations simultaneously while Asynchronous DRAM Self-Refresh protects data during a power failure.

The new chips are available now to customers and will be available in OEM systems later this year. Vendors that plan to release systems with the S12x9 processors include Accusys, MacroSAN, Qnap, and Qsan.

Intel is also introducing a new series of processors --- codenamed Rangeley -- is intended to power future networking gear. The 22nm Atom SoC is slated to be available sometime in the second half of this year (2H'13). Intel is positioning the Rangeley processors at entry-level to mid-range routers, switches, and security appliances.

While S12x9 and Rangeley are targeted at specific tasks, the company is also releasing a general purpose Atom processor codenamed Avoton. The Avoton SoCs are aimed at low power micro-servers, and is Intel's answer to ARM chips in the server room. Avoton is Intel's second generation 64-bit Atom processor series. It uses the company's Silvermont architecture on a 22nm process. The major update with Avoton is the inclusion of an Ethernet controller built into the processor itself. According to Intel, building networking into the processor instead of as a chip on a separate add-on board results in "significant improvements in performance per watt." These chips are currently being sampled to partners, and should be available in Avoton-powered servers later this year (2H'13).

This year is certainly shaping up to be an interesting year for Atom processors. I'm excited to see how the battle unfolds between the ARM and Atom-based solutions in the data center.

Source: Intel (PDF)

IDF: Intel Announces Upcoming Haswell and Ivy Bridge-E Xeon Processors

Subject: General Tech | April 10, 2013 - 04:14 PM |
Tagged: xeon-ex, xeon-ep, xeon, server, Intel, HPC, haswell

Intel officially announced its next-generation Xeon processors at IDF Beijing today. The new lineup includes the Haswell-based Xeon E3 1200 V3 family on the low end, and the Ivy Bridge-EP Xeon E5 and Ivy Bridge-EX Xeon E7 aimed at the mid-range general purpose and high-end HPC markets respectively. Intel did not disclose pricing or details on the new chips (such as core counts, cache, clockspeeds, number of SKUs etc.). However, the x86 chip giant did state that the new chips are coming later this year as well as teasing a few tidbits of information on the new Xeon chips.

The upcoming Xeon E3 processors will be part of the Xeon E3 1200 V3 family. These chips will be based on Haswell and are limited to one socket per board. Thanks to the Haswell architecture, Intel has managed to reduce power consumption by approximately 25% and increase video transcoding performance by about 25%. There will be at least one Xeon E3 1200 V3 series chip with a 13W TDP, for example.

Intel is also releasing a new media software development kit (SDK) for Linux and Windows machines that will provide a common platform for developers. It has allowed Intel to maximize the use of both the CPU and GPU for HD video transcoding as well as increasing the number of simultaneous video transcodes over previous generations. The new Xeon E3 1200 V3 (Haswell) chips will be available sometime before the end of 2013.

Intel Xeon Logo.jpg

The next-generation Xeon E5 chips will be based on the 22nm Ivy Bridge-EP architecture. They will be positioned at general purpose computing in data centers (and possibly high-end workstations), and will be limited to 2 sockets per motherboard. The new Xeon E5 processors will incorporate Intel Secure Key and OS Guard technologies. OS Guard is the evolution of the company's existing Intel Execute Disable Bit security technology. Intel is also including AES-NI (AES-New Instructions), to improve the hardware acceleration of AES encrypt/decrypt operations. These mid-range Xeon chips will be available in Q3 2013.

Finally, the top-end Xeon E7 processors will be based on the 22nm Ivy Bridge-EX architecture. The upcoming processors are intended for high performance server and supercomputing applications where scalability and performance are important. The Ivy Bride-EX chips are compatible with motherboards that will have between 4 and 8 sockets and up to 12TB of RAM per node. Further, Intel has packed these processors with new RAS features, including Resilient System Technology and Resilient Memory Technology. The RAS features ensure stability and data integrity in calculations are maintained. Such features are important in scientific, real-time analytics, cloud computing, and banking applications, where performance and up-time are paramount and any errors could cost a company money. Intel has stated that the new Xeon E7 CPUs will be available in the fourth quarter of this year (Q4'13).

While I was hoping for more details as far as core count, clockspeeds, and pricing, the approximate release to market timeframe for the chips is known. Do you think you will be upgrading to the new Xeon chips later this year, or are your current processors fast enough for your server applications?

More information on the upcoming Xeon chips can be found in this Intel fact sheet (PDF).

Source: Intel (PDF)

Intel Racks up another IDF Keynote

Subject: General Tech | April 10, 2013 - 12:31 PM |
Tagged: Project Scorpio, Intel, idf 2013, idf, Avonton

Intel talked about their Project Scorpio at IDF, similar to HP's Project Moonshot which has just become available.  Instead of a new Atom server being a complete system installed in a rack there will be a housing into which self contained server modules can be added and will communicate with the other modules via fabric switch.  That way you can pick how many modules you need based on your usage and purchase only that many, with upgrades being as easy as sliding in another module and configuring it.  Lego for admins!

They also showed off information on the new Avonton Atom as well as some information on the next family of Xeon processors which you can read more about at The Tech Report.

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"Intel kicked off IDF Beijing with a keynote address that revealed a number of new server processors in the Atom and Xeon families. The chip maker also discussed its rack scale architecture, which aims to make next-generation servers more flexible and efficient through modular components."

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