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12/28/2009
03:32 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Intel Recap: Atom, Nehalem Were 2009 Highlights

For processor-architecture voyeurs of the Intel variety, 2009 was most interesting for the emergence of the low end as market segment with legs enough to compete with traditional laptops. (Read: Atom and netbooks.) At the same time, servers got a big kicker with release of the Nehalem line in April.

For processor-architecture voyeurs of the Intel variety, 2009 was most interesting for the emergence of the low end as market segment with legs enough to compete with traditional laptops. (Read: Atom and netbooks.) At the same time, servers got a big kicker with release of the Nehalem line in April.In the "you ain't seen 'nothing yet" department, desktops and notebooks will see their great leap forward on January 7, at CES, when Intel CEO Paul Otellini uses the occasion of his keynote speech to formally unveil the new Westmere 32-nm processor family.

While Westmere news is interesting, to me it continues the meme that we're in a time of great, albeit incremental transitions in the semiconductor arena. (I mean "incremental," as opposed to huge, great leaps forward.)

I also think it's fascinating that the most interesting increments are at the high and low ends, while the desktop middle just kind of keeps on keeping on. For at the high end, we are in the midst of an important march which has taken us from standalone servers, to racks and blades and on to the consolidation and energy efficiency plays.

Currently, consolidation continues apace, spurred by the massive uptake in virtualization. This, of course, is spawning its own revolution in networking, as data centers grapple with managing gazillions of additional devices while attempting to take advantage of the dynamic flexibility that's seemingly been handed up on a platter. (Yet, it's not so easy to take advantage of all the wiggle room, is it? Sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much.)

Moving forward, we are headed towards a place where entire data centers can be migrated onto processor-sized platforms. That was the subject I explored in my most interesting (for me, anyway, and I hope for you) interview of 2009, where I talked with Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner (link below.)

On the low end, the second generation of Atom, announced just before Christmas, indicates that downsized platforms of all sorts are going to be ubersignificant to Intel's future. I'm talking not just about netbooks, but also embedded applications.

These include automotive, consumer-entertainment, and industrial apps. If Intel is successful in mining them with Atom, it will go a long way toward realizing CEO Paul Otellini's vision of diversifying beyond pure PC processors. I explored that in a couple of column I wrote during 2009 on Otellini and his possible successor, Sean Maloney.

Me, I can't help but wonder how Atoms don't cannibalize from the notebook space, though Intel has assured me that they do not. Perhaps Intel is astute enough to realize that it's better to eat one's young than to protect a legacy. At the same time, its hearty Atom yield efficiency is perhaps mitigating any slippage; somewhat, anyway.

OK, those are just some quick blog recap thoughts. Here are those pointers to my 2009 columns on Intel, which I hope you'll check out if you haven't seen them:

Intel CTO Envisions On-Chip Data Centers Justin Rattner, chief technology officer at the chip giant, talks about the explosion of multicore processing, bringing security to cloud computing, and processor-based networking.

Why Intel's Reorg Puts Maloney In CEO Successor Seat How Intel's painful efforts to diversify beyond computer processors have dogged president Paul Otellini, and why they'll challenge Sean Maloney, the man viewed as next in line to lead the company following a management shakeup.

AMD, Intel Remake Servers From Processor Up Faster chips, which deliver an unprecedented bounty of CPU cycles at more efficient power levels, are opening up a new chapter in the reinvention of the data center. The latest crop includes AMD's Istanbul and Magny-Cours Opterons and Intel's Nehalem-EX Xeon.

Top 10 Intel & AMD Stories Of 2009 High-profile developments on the processor landscape this year included aggressive multicore designs, research to put data centers on chip, and a surprise antitrust settlement between the dueling semiconductor vendors.

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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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