Technically, hyperthreading takes advantage of additional registers--circuits that help manage data inside a chip--that come on existing Pentium 4's but aren't used. Through these registers, the processor can handle more tasks at once by taking better advantage of its own resources. The chip can direct instructions from one application on its floating-point unit, which is where the heavy math is done, and run parts of another application through its integer unit.The technology won't hit the desktop until 2003, with servers and workstations seeing hyperthreading next year. Like everything coming out of Intel lately, it's going to be up to developers to support the technology to really reap its benefits.
A chip with hyperthreading won't equal the computing power of two Pentium 4's, but the performance boost is substantial, Poulin said. A workstation with hyperthreaded Xeon chips running Alias-Wavefront, a graphics application, has achieved a 30 percent improvement in tests, he said. Servers with hyperthreaded chips can manage 30 percent more users.
While hyperthreading certainly is impressive, the fact that Intel was also showing Quake 3 on a 3.5GHz Pentium 4 caught my attention. Though certainly a hand-picked chip that went through plenty of massaging to hit such a high speed, this still bodes well for the P4's ramping potential.
In somewhat less interesting news, Intel also plans to launch faster Celerons this week. Given the 900MHz Celeron's especially weak performance against AMD's new 1GHz Morgan, which we reviewed here, Intel is going to have to do something more drastic to its value processors than just a speed boost if it wants to keep pace.