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Friday, June 24, 2011
Intel Aims At Reinventing Laptop Capabilities With Haswell Chip

Intel has released public details on the next generation of the x86 architecture. Arriving first in our 2013 Intel microarchitecture codename "Haswell", the new instructions accelerate a broad category of applications and usage models.

Planned for 2013, products codenamed "Haswell" will be Intel's third step - after the 2nd Generation Intel Core technology with "Ivy Bridge" 22nm chips in 2012 - toward achieving the Ultrabook, Intel's vision of a laptop that combines best-in-class performance, improved responsiveness and security in a thin form factor.

The mobile version of Haswell will be Intel's first system-on-a-chip (SoC) designed for the mainstream laptop market. SoCs are typically used in smartphone and tablets, due to their compact size. Intel has hinted that Haswell will change the mainstream laptop thermal design point by reducing the microprocessor power to half of today's design point.

Of course, Haswell will also pack Intel's graphics inside, which means that the new devices such as the Ultrabooks will not require any extra graphics silicon from companies like Nvidia or AMD.

Mark Buxton, software engineer at Intel, provided some technical details related to the Haswell microarchitecture. The new instructions are build upon the instructions coming in Intel microarchitecture code name Ivy Bridge, including the digital random number generator, half-float (float16) accelerators, and extend the Intel Advanced Vector extensions (Intel AVX) that launched in 2011.

Buxton emphasises on Intel's Advanced Vector Extensions 2 or AVX2. Here is how the AVX2 instructions are described:

"AVX2 extends Intel AVX by promoting most of the 128-bit SIMD integer instructions with 256-bit numeric processing capabilities. AVX2 instructions follow the same programming model as AVX instructions.

In addition, AVX2 provide enhanced functionalities for broadcast/permute operations on data elements, vector shift instructions with variable-shift count per data element, and instructions to fetch non-contiguous data elements from memory.

Intel AVX and FMA provide comprehensive functional improvements over previous generations of SIMD instruction extensions. The functional improvements include:

- 256-bit floating-point arithmetic primitives: AVX enhances existing 128-bit floating-point arithmetic instructions with 256-bit capabilities for floating-point processing. FMA provides additional set of 256-bit floating-point processing capabilities with a rich set of fused-multiply-add and fused multiply-subtract primitives.

- Enhancements for flexible SIMD data movements: AVX provides a number of new data movement primitives to enable efficient SIMD programming in relation to loading non-unit-strided data into SIMD registers, intra-register SIMD data manipulation, conditional expression and branch handling, etc. Enhancements for SIMD data movement primitives cover 256-bit and 128-bit vector floatingpoint data, and 128-bit integer SIMD data processing using VEX-encoded instructions."

AVX2's integer support is particularly useful for processing visual data commonly encountered in consumer imaging and video processing workloads. Haswell offers both Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel AVX) for floating point, and AVX2 for integer data types.

"Intel AVX addresses the continued need for vector floating-point performance in mainstream scientific and engineering numerical applications, visual processing, recognition, data-mining/synthesis, gaming, physics, cryptography and other areas of applications. Intel AVX is designed to facilitate efficient implementation by wide spectrum of software architectures of varying degrees of thread parallelism, and data vector lengths," Intel says.

Of course, it will take some time until we see how all these technical enhancements are translated into silicon and whether these new chips would handle various tasks better than Nvidia's and AMD's graphics chips.

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