Intel Shifts Chips From PCs To Consumer Electronics

A major focus of Intel for next year is its plans for what it calls "system-on-chip" (SoC) products.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

April 16, 2007

4 Min Read

Intel unveiled this week a variety processors and related technology that indicates the chipmaker is in the throes of an aggressive development roadmap that spans PCs, computer servers and consumer electronics.

The company discussed more than 20 new products, technology innovations and initiatives at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), held for the first time in Beijing. Intel made the announcements Tuesday morning in China.

The foundation of Intel's upcoming processors is its 45-nanometer manufacturing process that enables the company to double the transistor density of a chip, compared to the older 65-nanometer technology. The measurement refers to transistor-line width.

The new manufacturing process, which Intel is using to deliver product this year, promises to produce higher-performing chips that use less power and generate less heat. Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices is also moving toward 45-nm manufacturing, but at a slower pace than Intel. AMD plans to use the technology in its next-generation processors that integrate x86 and graphic cores on one chip. Code named Fusion, the processors are scheduled for release in 2009.

In the meantime, Intel is marching on. "It's really clear now that Intel is on a much more aggressive development cycle (than before)," Martin Reynolds, analyst for Gartner, said.

Intel plans to start shipping the first of its family of 45-nm server processors, code-named Penryn, in the second half of this year. Scheduled for production next year is Nehalem, which will contain four processors on a single chip. Intel currently has a quad-core processor that's actually two integrated duo-core chips.

A major focus of Intel for next year is its plans for what it calls "system-on-chip" (SoC) products, which would integrate several key system components into a single Intel architecture-based processor. The first of the products for business and high-performance computing, codenamed Tolapai, would have a footprint that's 45% less than a standard four-chip design, and use 20% less power. At the same time, Tolapai would have better throughput performance and processor efficiency, Patrick Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, was scheduled to say in a keynote to IDF.

Tolapai is expected to contain Intel's new Quick Assist Integrated Accelerator Technology, which is meant to help optimize the use of accelerators in servers. Accelerators are used to increase the performance of a single function, such as security encryption or financial computations, while reducing power consumption.

Intel also unveiled plans to bring its SoC architecture to consumer electronics devices, such as digital set-top boxes, TVs and networked media players. Intel's first CE-targeted product was scheduled for next year, and would pair the Intel chip architecture with audio-visual processing, graphics, and other functions.

The consumer-electronics market offers Intel the chance to sell chips at even higher volumes through platforms for cellular phones, handheld computers, digital media players, and more. "System on a chip is the first time in a while that I've seen something that could be big in terms of revenue for them," Reynolds said.

Jim McGregor, analyst for In-Stat, agreed, saying that Intel, which saw its revenues fall and AMD's rise last year, is getting back to the basics of developing processors. "They've refocused all their efforts as a company on their core competencies, and that is their architecture and related products, manufacturing and research and development."

Other announcement by Intel included Project Larrabee, a programmable architecture using existing software tools. Larrabee is designed to scale to trillions of floating points per second (teraflops) for scientific computing, visualization, financial analytics, health applications, and other high-performance computing areas. No timetable was given for Larrabee-based products.

For multimedia applications, the company planned to ship this quarter the Intel 3 Series chipset, codenamed Bearlake, which included support for Microsoft's DirectX 10 platform. DX10 is in Windows Vista. Intel plans to release later this year its Viiv multimedia technology, codenamed Salt Creek, in versions of the Intel 3 Series chipset.

Building on its Intel Core 2 Extreme processor for gaming, Intel planned to introduce later this year a new dual processor-based platform codenamed Skulltrail. The platform would feature two sockets for quad-core processors and four PCI express slots for advanced graphics.

Justin R. Rattner, chief technology officer for Intel, was scheduled to unveil the company's long-term goals. By the end of the decade, Intel hoped to achieve a 10x reduction in power consumption in its processor portfolio. Ratter also would demonstrate a single-piece of programmable silicon reaching 2 teraflops speed. Intel researchers in February said they had developed an 80-core teraflops chip not much larger than the size of a finger nail.

Intel held the IDF in China as a reflection of its multi-billion-dollar investment in the country, which is becoming a major consumer of technology. The company last month announced plans to build a $2.5 billion wafer fabrication facility in the country.

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