Business, Graphics, Hardware, Interviews

INTERVIEW: Dan S. Snyder, Intel Inside[r]

When media and analysts discuss Intel, a lot is said about Intel’s products, but not a lot is said about tens of thousands of people who not just work, but evolve inside the company even for their whole career. Intel is one of those companies – unspoiled by unions, Intel is a company where engineers thrive, but the doors are always open for creative people worldwide. We talked with a lot of insiders who praised the openness of the company, and the fact that you can be involved in a "constructive discussion" is something that is not heard in a lot of companies.
For instance, you have an employee X who thinks that an issue is not addressed properly for instance, by a Senior VP. What will happen is that an employee X will select a third party as mediator and the discussion will continue for as long as mediator, employee X and the Senior VP don’t come to a constructive conclusion. This process can take for hours, but the result should be a better insight into that project and ultimately, deliver a higher value.

While we were preparing for an interview with Intel, our goal was to bring a true face to Intel’s "sponsors of tomorrow" marketing campaign. We didn’t want to interview an actor that plays the role of a great scientist or a nutty professor, but rather an example how a person can develop inside Intel. The choice was quite simple – Dan S. Snyder was one of speakers during the recent Lynnfield launch and we decided to sit down and have an interesting discussion.

Intel [changing] Inside from 1991 to 2009
Dan Snyder talking during recent launch of Intel Lynnfield [Core i5/i7]BSN*:  You?ve been an Intel employee since 1991. How things changed over the years at Intel?
Dan Snyder:  Well, the most obvious change that I?ve noticed is that obviously the company has gotten a whole lot bigger. When I started in the early 1990s, which was before Intel Inside. So I think the biggest change is Intel went from really a kind of "nuts and bolts component only" company, that only guys who read things like EE Times, IEEE Journal and stuff like that were even on Intel?s radar screen. As soon as Intel Inside launched in the 1990s – that kind of changed everything. We went from focusing on pure, technical, geek, guys in the lab who read EE Times to being a more mainstream company. So there?s a ton of more marketing people, a lot more people looking at how to position the products to end users and educate them about products.

BSN*: You began your career at Intel as an engineer out of Columbia University. What are some of the projects you worked on early in your tenure as an engineer?
Dan Snyder: My first engineering role was in our assembly and fabs in Phoenix, Arizona. I was working on issues with packaging on our old 386s quite a ways back. We used to have plastic packages for our processors and we would basically take failure analysis from the field, like if a customer had an issue with the packaging or something happening, we would work with the customer and labs on the packaging. I have my background in material science and that was a very material science type position. It involved nuts and bolts type work on the package properties in a way it would twist and bend? also test how it would absorb moisture and different things like that.

BSN*: In 1994 you moved to a technical marketing position at Intel. How did the career move transpire?
Dan Snyder: Basically what happened was I started in engineering and I kind of just drifted slowly to more technical and a more spokesperson-type role. I think it?s because I had that background in engineering and I also like working with people I was able to talk to customers and explain the technology. Really, the key thing for our PR and marketing roles is the ability to explain things in a way that people can understand. So I kind of moved into a more technical marketing position from pure engineering, working on Pentium tech marketing. I was setting up demos, working on training Intel field and marketing people. From there I went into a more pure marketing role and then from there I went into PR. Now I do the tech PR with all the tech enthusiasts, press and all that stuff.

BSN*: What would you consider as the greatest achievement Intel has accomplished over the years?
Dan Snyder: This is really tough. I?d say if I had to point to an achievement that happens over and over again but it?s one key area, I would have to say our process technology. I think that Intel continually reinvents itself and Intel is continually mastering high-volume manufacturing and processes. So every few years, we?ll go to lower lithography, into higher density transistors. I think if you have to point to the one thing, the one accomplishment, it is the manufacturing process side of it. That?s really the engine that fuels everything we do.

BSN*:  Intel is known for its commitment to green technology as demonstrated by EIST [Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology] and now halogen-free products. What new environmentally friendly features can we expect from Intel in the future?
Dan Snyder:  I think the power consumption on our product line, on our processor is the biggest thing there. Obviously, we?re continually offering more performance and lower power consumption. That?s pretty incredible. When we launched Conroe, it was 40% more performance at 40% less power consumption. Nehalem and Lynnfield are even better than that. So I think it shows real engineering marvel that these people [Intel engineers] more performance at less power consumption. So I think the lower power draw and the systems are running cooler really make a huge difference. We also are lead and halogen free in our products now, including motherboards, SSDs [Solid State Disks] and processors. That is a huge thing in terms of environmental areas, so we are definitely making sure we are careful on that. A lot of OEMs, particularly Apple, won?t even buy a product unless it?s lead and halogen free from what I understand [halogen was the reason Apple skipped the first generation of Intel SSD products, Ed.]. Also, we do a lot of stuff with environmental areas. For example, reclaiming our water, I think we reclaim about 80% of our water we use in our Fabs and we purify and it ends up leaving the Fabs cleaner than when it came in. We put a lot of thought into the resources we use to make our products, that?s really important. Finally, all these things with corporate social responsibility, there are a lot of initiatives where we are buying back these [carbon] credits for power consumption [Intel is a leader
in the USA for buying carbon credits, Ed.] I?m not sure of the exact terms of that, that?s not my area but we have a lot of people working on those things. For more information, see Intel?s corporate social responsibility page.

Intel vs. nVidia, the curious case of Larrabee
: In the past few years, nVidia has made several eyebrow raising statements recently. Most notably, in the spring of 2008, nVidia more or less declared the death of the CPU [Central Processing Unit]. Do you feel there is any truth to these statements? Is the industry running head on into the wall of diminishing returns with regard to CPU tech?
Dan Snyder:  Ahhh, the tough question. My stance on this is simple and I?ve given public statements on this for several years. I?ve got many friends working at nVidia; I?ve got many good friends across the entire industry from working in the industry for fifteen years. I don?t think the CPU or graphics is going away. You need both in a good [computer] system. I?ve never really understood why people want to talk about one system component being obsolete when if you are a hardcore gamer you need great graphics. If you?re a hardcore gamer I?m never going to tell you to get integrated graphics. I?m never going to tell you that graphics are not important. Absolutely, go out and buy the fastest graphics card you can if you?re into gaming or that kind of stuff. I?m not going to go tell you to buy the fastest graphics card you can buy and the processor doesn?t matter because people don?t do just pure gaming. Almost any user is going to be using some other stuff that a good processor is important for. That includes the video stuff, any high performance integer stuff. I mean, there are tons of things that the CPU is needed for so I don?t see the CPU as being obsolete. I also think that if you?re not a hardcore gamer, like I recently got a new system for my mom; she doesn?t even know what those games are so integrated graphics is fine for her. What it comes down to on a fundamental line is each user needs to spec their system based on what they are doing with the system.

Pat Gelsinger, former Intel executive holding a wafer with early Larrabee prototypesBSN*: On the subject of graphics, how has the Larrabee project influenced the relationship between Intel and nVidia if at all?
Dan Snyder: I think all you have to do is look at Jen-Hsun Huang?s comments in the press and you?ll see that answer. My opinion on it is really this; I?ve seen various graphics efforts by Intel. Some were more successful than others and at the end of the day Intel has an idea and we?re working with the industry to bring it to market. I tell this to everyone that at the end of the day the market will decide on any product. So as a company this is what we do for a living, we make products we try them out. If the market goes crazy and loves it, take the iPhone or take our Core i7s or the new Lynnfield the market goes gaga. It?s a great product and they love it and it sells. So the product teams learn from that and the go back and they make tweaks and they plan for roadmaps based on that response. I think Larrabee is a very ambitious goal and just as someone who works with a lot of skeptical, unbiased outside parties I will just say that Intel is working hard on it and the market will decide. Intel has a kind of paradigm shift in how we look at this [graphics] and we?re going for it. So time will tell. And on a day to day working level with nVidia, we work with them. Obviously, SLi is fully functional on X58 and P55 chipsets. That?s a first, a big move from the start at launch we?ve had SLi support across our product lines for desktops. So that?s really nice. I think that goes to show that on a day to day level, there are good things going on between Intel and nVidia.

BSN*: How do you feel about the future of computing? Do you feel that x86 based microprocessors are the best way going forward? Or do you see Intel moving in another direction in the future?
Dan Snyder:  Well, for the foreseeable future we?re obviously very dedicated to x86, to multi-core. We?ve publicly disclosed that we are going to have a six-core, 32 nanometer CPU next year, so that is 2010 for Gulftown. So x86, its more cores, more threads, isn?t going anywhere anytime soon. Beyond that, who knows? It?s anyone?s guess. I think what you see with x86 is 64-bit, it?s power efficient, the threading cores and widespread software compatibility. The installed software base is not something to take lightly. The x86 installed software base is hundreds and hundreds of thousands of programs and applications, which is not a small feat. That?s a result of decades with the architecture spawning those applications. I?ve been here fifteen years, never say never but I know that we?ve got a hell of an installed base of x86 software out there.

BSN*: The Lynnfield P55 based chipset platform launched almost a year later than the Bloomfield X58 based chipset. Why the delay between launches? Were there any technical hurdles that had to be overcome that prevented closer launch dates?
Dan Snyder:  No there weren?t. There was no difficulty or anything. It was a matter of a planned disclosure and a planned product launch. There are changes to the processor and chipset with P55 to move the PCI Express x16 lane right into the processor for Lynnfield so it?s a redesigned processor and chipset. There are major differences that didn?t allow us to do just a simultaneous launch. We planned on launching Lynnfield when we did [given the discrepancy in state of development between P55 chipset and Lynnfield, motherboard vendors wholeheartedly disagree, Ed.].

BSN*: The X58 chipset features the LGA-1366 socket while the P55 chipset features the LGA-1156 socket. Why spit the desktop sockets after seven years of one socket – LGA-775.
Dan Snyder:  Well, the first I?d to say, and I?ve been asked the socket question for fifteen years at this company, is that the only people who get into socket discussion are the DIY [do-it-yourself] guys. Those kinds of guys are a small percentage of the market so first off the consumer and end-user, such as my mom, my uncle will never give a hoot about the package, right? So the do-it-yourself guy is also going to know that he wants the latest and greatest board, the latest and greatest memory, and you know things happen and things change in the industry. A
lso, Lynnfield and Bloomfield are much different processors in a lot of ways because of what are integrated and different functionalities and things like that. Lynnfield is targeted towards a smaller form factor boards and systems, higher volume systems. So there?s many, many technical marketing and business reasons that facilitated the change in the socket. And we never guarantee that once you buy a motherboard you?ll be able to upgrade the CPU on that motherboard for the rest of your life. That is never there and you never know what is going to happen with future architectures or what is going to happen with future technical, electrical, thermal, mechanical specs may be required. So in a perfect world we?d have the same socket forever. We?d be on the twenty-pin socket we had with the 8086 or whatever.

Lynnfield versus Nehalem: New vs. Old, who is a better pick?
:  Which upgrade path would you choose: X58 or P55?
Dan Snyder:  That?s a really good question. I think if you really want the ultimate performance; the two key differences when you go to the X58 are going to be the overclockability of the Extreme Editions, you know the Extremes are fully unlocked, you can tweak and pull all the knobs and triple channel memory. With P55, you have dual channel memory with X58 you have triple channel memory, so if you?re doing really high-end stuff, if you are wanting bleeding edge, you?re a hardcore gamer and you?re encoding a lot of high-definition video and you?re a 3D buff on the side and you?re doing Folding@home you are going to have all that access to the triple channel memory. So that is some key performance on the memory bandwidth side of it. You?re going to have the full unlocked CPUs of the Extremes, the bandwidth of the higher end X58 and the X58 boards tend to be more robust in terms of features and all that. With all that being said, I mean P55 and Lynnfield is a phenomenal value and the reviews that came out at launch, especially on the i5 750 with overclockability and performance is absolutely great. So my thought is that Lynnfield for most users is going to be a fantastic upgrade. But if you really are on that bleeding edge of hardcore usages then the X58 is going to give you the ultimate in performance. We know the bleeding edge is a smaller part of the market. We?d love everyone in the world to buy that but I?m not going to go tell my uncle, who only does Facebook and email that he?s going to need Extreme Edition and X58.

BSN*:  But on a personal level which chipset would you choose?
Dan Snyder: Honestly, I?m a little torn, because with Lynnfield you get cooler and quieter as well and I like very quiet systems at home. So, personally, on the other hand, I do a lot of high-end audio editing, I have a home music studio so I do Cubase so with that you can take all the performance you can get. This question is really tricky – I?m actually going through this now because I?m building a new system. I?m probably going to go for the Extreme with the X58 for the maximum performance because the thermal solutions have gotten so good with noise levels that you can get a pretty fast system with low noise fans and stuff. But it?s really tough call. With Lynnfield you?re going to get great power consumption, you got a 35 or 45 watts less in TDP [Thermal Design Power] which is a huge, huge deal. You get more turbo upside with Lynnfield; you may see situations in lightly threaded applications where you are going to get more turbo upside and performance on Lynnfield than on the Bloomfield stuff. So I think that probably the big X58 and Bloomfield with the unlocked CPUs and overclockability as well as the triple channel memory is definitely best for the higher-end, more heavily multi-threaded apps, but if you?re applications aren?t as memory dependent and you?re not worried about overclocking then I would say for sure, without a doubt, choose Lynnfield.

No Core i7 800 Extreme edition
BSN*:  Will the i7 800 series include an unlocked Extreme Edition or is that reserved for the i7 900 series?
Dan Snyder:  Yeah, that?s going to be an i7 Bloomfield only feature for now, but the whole nature of overclockability is kind of turned on its head because a third party, such as ASUS or GigaByte, puts all kinds of knobs. You know the overclockers always find a way to get around the specifications of a part to overclock it. If you can?t overclock the vclock you can overvoltage this or overclock the memory. So, good overclockers always find a way around the limits of a product?s specs. That being said, the Bloomfield i7 965, 975 are fantastic because they?re totally unlocked, you can totally play with all your knobs and bells and whistles and so that is the ultimate for flexibility in overclocking. But people are still getting gigahertz overclocks on air cooling with Lynnfield, that?s what we?re seeing on reviews.

BSN*:  What do you consider the killer feature of Lynnfield?
Dan Snyder: I think that with Lynnfield, for the first time, you?ve got this processor where if you don?t have a threaded application, you?ve got turbo. So that?s great. Anyone that is whining about applications not being threaded, you?ve got turbo to help you out and if you?ve got a threaded application, you?ve got eight threads at your disposal. So Lynnfield?s big killer feature is that kind of adaptability. It adapts to the usage model and that?s the really cool feature. This has been covered pretty well but not as much as I think it could have.

Cold Bug or how Core i7 acquired a bug from the original AMD Phenom
Prior to Core i7 and i5, Intel was undisputed leader in sub-zero cooling. But the rolers reversed: now Phenom II doesn't have a cold bug, while Intel Nehalem/Lynnfield can't dip below a point around -100C.
With Core 2, Intel ruled the sub-zero world. Today, AMD doesn’t have cold bug, while Intel defends it stance…

BSN*:  About that cold bug [sub-zero cooling with Liquid Nitrogen, Dry Ice etc.]?
Dan Snyder:  Well, you know, Francois? [Francois Piednoel, Intel Senior Performance Analyst] stance and my stance too, is when you?re operating product wildly out of its specs you can?t really call this a bug. The product is being run way out of its specs, we want to get people away from calling this a bug and you don?t need to go down that low to get the best overclocking out of it. And my second thought is these wildly, way out there, liquid nitrogen overclocking numbers just end up confu
sing the market because it?s science lab scenarios. I mean if you do overclocking on air, OK I could see that or maybe water cooling getting maybe a gigahertz overclock, that I could see an enthusiast doing. But if you look at the market of people doing the liquid nitrogen and all that, I mean that is a handful of guys. It?s like you can count them on your hands and your feet. Honestly, what I would say to that is if there?s limitations to reaching those temperatures, it?s way out of spec, it?s the realm of science lab environment of a few dozen people in the world that have access to that type of technology. Look how our products perform at stock speeds and it overclocks. I mean, I?ve seen our products in the benchmarks and you can?t touch them these days at stock speeds and mere mortal overclocking levels and that?s 99.9% usage of the products so that?s what I want to focus on.

BSN*:  What are some of the key benefits resulting from the collaboration between Intel and Microsoft regard Windows 7?
Dan Snyder:  I think the biggest thing, and you can talk to Microsoft, is the updated and improved scheduler. Win 7?s scheduler uses Hyper-Threading more intelligently and there?s this core parking feature that Francois can tell you a lot more about. We worked on scheduling of threads so that it schedules to the physical cores first and to virtual threads second after the cores have been exhausted. We worked to have better power management schemes and all kinds of stuff.

BSN*:  How is the 32nm Westmere lithography coming along? What are some of the power and performances hurdles to be overcome or are being overcome?
Overview of features between 45nm Nehalem and 32nm Westmere architecturesDan Snyder:  We?re not disclosing that we?re overcoming all these hurdles or overcoming all these issues because our current products are so great. It isn?t like there are issues and problems we?ve got fix per se. It?s more of a continuous improvement. With 32nm, obviously you?re going down to lower thermals; you?re going to get more power efficiency. The biggest advantage of 32nm is you got more real estate on your processor package so this is where we?re integrating graphics and higher levels of integration so that there?s more value for your buck in that processor you?re buying. 32nm is a big real estate and integration story and performance and power efficiency as well for the next generation of Clarkdale and Arrandale products that will be out in 1Q 2010.

BSN*: What TDP can we look forward to in the Westmere iteration of Nehalem?
Dan Snyder:  The TDP? We?re not disclosing the TDP range on that but I would venture to guess that it?s at least as power efficient as current products and Lynnfield are. So we?re going to move down to more mainstream levels, so usually when you go to lower end/mainstream you go to lower TDP and smaller form factor. But we?re not giving any definitive ranges or anything yet.

BSN*:  What kind of performance can we expect of next-gen integrated graphics [Core i3-i5]? Can we expect to play Half Life 2 at playable framerates, say 30 FPS [frames per second] or better?
Dan Snyder:  In the future, we?re going to disclose some performance numbers for integrated graphics. With a lot of the games it depends on what people mean by decent framerates or playable framerates. Is it 60? Is it a 100 FPS [frames per second]? Integrated graphics, the bottom line is though, even though with new integrated graphics being integrated into the processor is going to be much improved, it?s still not going to be positioned for the hardcore gamer. So we?ve never, ever stood up there and said we want you to run integrated graphics to the hardcore gamers. It?s almost like nVidia wants to say that [we advise integrated graphics for intense games and graphics intensive apps] but we [Intel] don?t. If you?re a hardcore gamer or even just a mainstream gamer?you know, more than the Sims [so, how do The Sims 2 or 3 look on G45 iGFX? Not a pretty sight. Ed.] but not the crazy high-end stuff. Absolutely, go get a discrete graphics card. You can get great deals now; you can get extreme performance in a discrete graphics that you used to never be able to get. If you?re splitting hairs on whether integrated graphics will run this game or that game you?re probably someone that should buy a discrete graphics card and then not worry about it.

BSN*:  Thank you for your time. Have a good evening.
Dan Snyder:  Good interview; I liked the questions. Take care.

All in all, Dan is one of cool heads inside Intel. In a long conversation, you could see how the company has a diversified path, focusing on developing CPUs, chipsets, Solid State Drives and diversifying in as many fields as possible. This resulted in massive profits coming out from outside the CPU division. Looking into the 32nm world, Core i3 [desktop] and Core i5 [notebook branding] should bring higher clocks for Intel integrated graphics, but even then, it is obvious that the company is investing heavily in getting Larrabee out the door, with iGFX team moving on to smarter things. We do take offense with Intel’s stance on discrete graphics as "stuff for hardcore gamers", since real world showed that Intel’s actual products choke in mainstream games such as The Sims 2 and 3, World of Warcraft and so on.
SSD department is a very exciting one and is looking to bring a lot of positive movement on the market, especially if the company keeps pushing products such as its joint-venture with Kingston on their 40GB Boot Drive.