Stable Image Platform Program

Let's talk about some of the advantages that Intel offers large businesses. One of the key items is the Stable Image Platform Program (SIPP). The idea is quite simple: Intel defines a platform and guarantees availability of that platform for at least 12 months (and often slightly longer). In the exact wording of the roadmap: "At least 12 months of Deployment for Image Compatible Platforms." That means both processors and chipsets, with specific feature sets required as well.

This is important because large corporations only want to support a few types of systems if at all possible. They'll have a hard drive image (images) with the base software and drivers installed, and after transferring that image onto the hard drive, the new PC boots up and can be ready for use in a matter of a couple hours (less depending on network speed, system speed, package customization, etc.) That allows the IT department to be staffed by just a couple people with headquarters usually handling the creation of disk images and installation packages. Every new system supported requires at least some updates to the image process, so corporations will have a set system that they purchase for an entire year. Bang for the buck is a far less important factor than stability and support.

Taking things a step further, though, Intel recognizes that a single platform isn't sufficient for every business need. They have two desktop SIPP options, the Intel Professional Business Platform and the Intel Fundamental Business Platform. The former typically includes slightly faster processors and some other extras, and it caters to the higher-end businesses that may do content editing, 3D rendering, audio/video, etc.; the latter is targeted more at companies that just need the typical office applications. Businesses also like portable computers, of course, so besides the two desktop configurations Intel also has a SIPP for Mobile systems.

All this adds up to an attractive lineup for many companies, and it is one of the reasons why Intel continues to dominate the business sector. Business partners can find out far in advance what the next recommended platform will be, and while many would argue that they overspend for the Intel recommendations, it's one less decision to make. If you feel your computers are outdated and slow, what do you do? Simple: upgrade to the latest Intel recommendation. No consultation required, and no worrying about parts; you just go to an OEM and grab their current business PC, and you're done. Buy a few extras, so that when systems inevitably break down you have a spare while you wait for repairs, and at least in terms of computer availability your company should have few if any problems. The going rate for such a system - including 17" LCD and a three year warranty - is around $1400. 25 such systems will cost around $35000, which is on the low end of the salary scale for an IT worker. Remember also that hardware and support is included in that price, so if the SIPP allows you to cut at least one IT position per 25 computers, you've come out ahead.

If AMD wants to gain market share from businesses, they and their partners will need to provide similar platforms with guaranteed availability. Certainly, it helps that Intel manufactures not only the processors, but the chipsets and even motherboards as well. As you'll see in a moment, SIPP computers are not for the enthusiast - we'd even go so far as to call them boring and underpowered. However, it is important to understand the bigger picture; enthusiasts are really a small - though vocal - part of the computing market. Here are the current and upcoming SIPP specifications from Intel.

Stable Image Platform Program
Platform Name Processor Chipset Features
Professional Business Platform 2005 Pentium 6xx 945G HT; 800FSB; 2MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; AMT; GMA950
Professional Business Platform 2006 Pentium 9xx Broadwater G DC; 800FSB; 2x2MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; New AMT; VT; New IGP
Business Platform 2004 Pentium 530-550 915G HT; 800FSB; 1MB L2; DDR/DDR2; PCIe; GbE; GMA900
Fundamental Business Platform 2005 Pentium 531 945G HT; 800FSB; 1MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; GMA950
Fundamental Business Platform 2006 Pentium 631+ Broadwater GF HT; 800FSB; 2MB L2; DDR2; PCIe; GbE; EM64T; New IGP
Mobile Business Platform 2004 Pentium M 855 family Centrino; Intel Pro/Wireless 2100
Mobile Business Platform 2005 Pentium M 915GM/PM/GMS Centrino; Intel Pro/Wireless 2200BG and 2915ABG
Mobile Business Platform 2006 Yonah SC/DC 945GM/PM/GMS Centrino; Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG; [VT; AMT; Pro/1000 PL/PM Network]

The 915G and Pentium 5xx SIPP is being phased out now, though the changes are mostly in the chipset and the support of EM64T with the updated Pentium 5xx parts. Before the 915G SIPP, Intel had the 865G platform with socket 478 HTT/800FSB processors. Even today, a Pentium 4 2.8C is more than capable of handling office work. Intel has refined the SIPP by breaking the desktop sector into two different markets, as we mentioned earlier. As far as we can remember, this is a change that has only come about with the latest platforms - 915G didn't have separate "Professional" and "Fundamental" recommendations.

The newly launched Intel Professional Business Platform is a decent system, at least in terms of the CPU and chipset. The Pentium 630, 640, and 650 all come with 2MB of L2 cache and HyperThreading Technology, providing for a sufficiently snappy user experience. The 2MB L2 cache isn't a clear victor over the smaller 1MB cache of the earlier Prescott chips, as it has higher latencies, but in the majority of business applications it does come out ahead. For the chipset, 945G is very near the top of the Intel performance ladder, with only the 955X actually surpassing it. The advantage it has over 955X is that it has integrated graphics, and while the IGP is nothing spectacular when compared to even the $50 discrete graphics cards, it gets the job done for office work. GMA950 also supports DVI output, so LCDs get a proper signal for optimal performance. Intel Active Management Technology (AMT) is overkill for small businesses and home computers, but at corporations where they want to monitor the status of every PC, it can be useful. Gigabit Ethernet - provided of course by Intel with their Intel PRO/1000 PM Network Connection - rounds out the platform, providing everything necessary for a business PC; just add RAM, HDD, DVD, and display.

In comparison, the Intel Fundamental Business Platform is very similar, with the primary difference being the recommended CPU. Drop from the 6xx series down to the 5xx series, and you've basically got the Fundamental platform. There are a few other differences, though. First, Intel specifies the 531 CPU rather than leaving the range open. 531 is currently the lowest priced Pentium 5xx that includes EM64T and HyperThreading - the 521 is the same cost, so there's no reason to use the slower part. In fact, the Fundamental platform is simply last year's platform upgraded to an EM64T CPU and the 945G chipset. Also missing from the "lesser" platform is Intel's AMT, but for smaller businesses that likely won't be missed.

Next year's SIPP for both sectors upgrades the chipset to Broadwater - G and GF for the Pro and Fundamental platforms, respectively. In addition to the new chipset, the processors are also upgraded. The Fundamental gets the Cedar Mill 631 or higher part, while the Professional platform moves to dual-core and the Presler processor. Both of those are 65nm parts and likely the last new NetBurst designs, in case you missed our other roadmap. The 9xx chips also include Virtualization Technology, which may prove useful for some businesses. Software development could certainly make use of the ability to run multiple OS versions simultaneously, for example.

Rounding out the Stable Image Platform Program, we come to the Mobile sector. It should come as little surprise that Pentium M/Centrino is the basis of the mobile platform. The current specification includes the use of any of the 915GM/PM/GMS Express chipsets, a Pentium M processor - Banias or Dothan are both apparently acceptable, though Dothan would be more likely - and either Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG or Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG. The networking choices only provide 10/100 Mbit Ethernet, with either dual-mode B/G or tri-mode A/B/G WiFi.

Starting in 2006, the Mobile SIPP gets updated to Yonah processors with new chipsets. Both the single-core and dual-core Yonah chips qualify, allowing for everything from ultra-portable through full-size laptop computers. The chipset options get updated to the 945 variants - 945GM/PM/GMS Express - and the networking component moves to Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG. One thing that isn't entirely clear on the Yonah SIPP is how some additional options come into play. Listed below the main specification are several other items: Intel Virtualization Technology, Intel Active Management Technology, Intel PRO/1000 PM Network Connection, and Intel PRO/1000 PL Network Connection. We would assume that these are optional upgrades to the platform, adding AMT, VT, and/or gigabit Ethernet for clients that desire such features.
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  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    Itanium either supports hardware emulation OR software translation. The difference between emulation and translation may seem to be minimal, but translation has much better performance than emulation. While the hardware emulation just emulates instructions, the software translator dynamically optimizes the code on the fly to improve performance.

    Hardware emulation is NOT present on Montecito in favor of IA-32EL(software translation)
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    The MAJOR difference betweeen Foxton and *OTHER* dynamic overclocking is that Foxton is implemented on HARDWARE, while other dynamic overclocking is based on SOFTWARE.

    I guess you guys may refer to the dynamic overclocking by MSI by D.O.T. or the one in ATI Catalyst driver. But they are software based. 30 million of the LOGIC transistors are dedicated to JUST Foxton technology.

    Foxton isn't just dynamic overclocking. If the power consumption exceeds the set threshold, it clocks the CPU down until its equal or under the threshold point. Unlike conventional overclocking, Foxton FINDS the right point where it won't damage the CPU, while providing the maximum clockspeed the design can provide.

    OCing Prescott to 6GHz is not safe point, BTW.

    Foxton responds extremely fast on demand and power consumption. The hardware feature for Foxton is extensive for power management, basing it on power consumption, temperature, workload.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    Good points, and obviously I wasn't trying to get into the deep details of Itanium. I have a question for you, though, as you seem to know plenty about Itanium: Intel currently has IA-32EL; is there an IA-EM64T-EL in the works? (It might be called something else, but basically EM64T emulation for Itanium?)

    Even though Foxton is hardware based, we still don't know how it actually performs in practice - at least, I don't. (I probably never will, as I haven't even used an Itanium system other than to poke around a bit at some tradeshows.) 955 can run as high as 2.0 GHz under load - in practice, can you actually reach that speed most of the time, or is it more like 1.80 GHz for a bit, then 2.0 GHz for a bit, and maybe 1.90 GHz in between?

    Also, are you sure about the "30 million transistors" part? That's larger than the entire Itanium Merced core (not counting the L3 cache). I suppose if you're talking about all the debugging and monitoring transistors, 30 million might be possible, but I didn't think all of that was lumped under "Foxton"?
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    I think there is plan for EM64T extension to IA-32EL. I heard from Inquirer that Montvale may have that, but either I could have misunderstood it/or its a rumor. Its just software support so I guess Intel can put it whenever they want to.

    For Foxton speeds, it depends. From what I understand, there is a thing called a power virus(A power virus is a malicious computer program that executes a specific instruction mix in order to establish the maximum power rating for a given CPU.), and if a number for power virus is 1.0(meaning 100% of maximum power), for Linpack its 0.8, specfp2k is 0.7, specint2k is 0.65, TpmC is 0.6. Since TpmC is furthest away from the power virus figure, it would reach maximum speed all the time, for 9055, that is 2.0GHz. For speccpu2k, it may be 1.9GHz, and for Linpack it may be 1.8GHz. So for some programs, there may be no benefit AT ALL, while others may get the maximum.

    Foxton can sample every 8uS to change voltage and frequency.

    Yes, I am sure about the Foxton hardware transistor count part. It uses custom 32-bit DSP with its own RAM to process the data necessary for Foxton. I was sort of surprised but yeah, around 30 million. Sorry I couldn't give the link, I'll send you somehow, give me info of how, but I do remember clearly. Merced has 25 million transistors including 96KB L2, without it that's around 20 million I guess, but Mckinley is actually simpler and has less logic transistors than Merced, which according to some, its around 15-17 million transistors.

    Montecito has 64 million transistors NOT including L2. 64-30=34 million/2=17 million transistors, which is right on mark for
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, September 14, 2005 - link">

    Well, I was KINDA right.


    Hewlett-Packard declared. 30 million transistors, as many as are in a Pentium II, are responsible solely for power management

    Though, yes that doesn't mean they are all for Foxton. Maybe, I don't know.

    Itanium Merced has 25.4 million transistors. ~6 million of that is dedicated to x86 hardware emulator. Which leaves with 19.4 million transistors. W/O including 96KB L2, it would be around 14-15 million transistors for Merced core logic.

  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, September 14, 2005 - link

    OTOH, I think the site could be wrong. It doesn't make sense with other Montecito papers saying it consumes less than 0.5W and takes less than 0.5% die size. I give up haha.
  • Jimw18600 - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    Your definition of HTT is a little skewed. It doesn't enable processing multiple threads; that was always there, whether they were earmarked or not. What it does do, is instead of flushing the instruction buffer back to the missed branch, it restarts the broken thread and continues the rest forward. Broken threads are simply tossed out and resources are reclaimed in the last stage in the pipeline; completed threads are retired. And by the way, the reason Intel was forced to go to HTT was they were heading for 31-stage pipelines. If you were still back at 12-15 stages, HTT didn't have that much to offer.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    My definition of HTT was actually taken directly from the roadmap. That's how Intel describes it, and obviously a 1 sentence summary leaves out a lot of details. HTT does allow the concurrent execution of more than one thread, but resource contention makes it difficult to say exactly how HTT will affect performance.

    One interesting point about SMT in general is that POWER5 doesn't have 20 to 31 pipeline stages and yet it still benefits from the IBM SMT design. This is purely a hunch on my part, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some form of HT come out for Conroe/Woodcrest in the future. Trouble filling all for issue slots from one thread? SMT could help out. We'll see if Intel does that or not in the future.

    Note: HTT was actually present (but disabled) since Northwood for sure. Some people suspect that it was actually present in an early form in Willamette. Just because Conroe doesn't currently show any HT support, doesn't mean there's not some deactivaated features awaiting further testing. :)
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    From what I understand, modern single thread processors like the early Northwood P4's can execute multiple threads, but not ALL simultaneously. Since today's processors are fast enough anyway, it SEEMS like multi-tasking. The OS decides how to devote the time to the CPUs I guess.

    HT, makes use of the otherwise idle units, since it will give basically double demand to the CPU. None of the thread can make full advantage of the CPU(say 15%), but second thread makes it more efficient by taking 20% advantage of the CPU, which is 33% better throughput. It is more complex than that, but I think that explanation is enough.

    Power 4/5 issue rate is 5-wide, which is quite a lot. It also has 17-stage pipeline, which is close to Pentium 4 Willamette/Northwood. Wide and deep, with lots of bandwidth and enough execution units, its perfect for SMT.
  • coomar - Monday, September 12, 2005 - link

    kind of difficult to read the confidential

    virtualization sounds interesting

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