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Are You Ready For The $10-Multicore-Cell Phone Future?

Draw a line that connects these three dots: Dot One is labeled "Intel Road Map Stretches From Quad Cores To Mobile Internet." Dot Two is labeled "Nokia Licenses Moore Microprocessor Patents." Dot Three is labeled
May 07, 2007
Draw a line that connects these three dots: Dot One is labeled "Intel Road Map Stretches From Quad Cores To Mobile Internet." Dot Two is labeled "Nokia Licenses Moore Microprocessor Patents." Dot Three is labeled "India Looks To Produce World's First $10 Laptop." What does the space enclosed by these three lines look like? The future of computing. And what does the space outside the lines look like? I'd say, the computer business as we know it today.The Intel story isn't exactly earth-shattering. It's hardly surprising that Intel has a road map. The company has been remarkably good at predicting the future for decades. It says it has recovered from recent stumbles -- see, for example, "Intel's Otellini Promises More Innovation, Lower Costs." Intel CEO Paul Otellini told stock market analysts the company expects to do well in desktop and server processors, of course, but it is gearing up to produce new processors for new markets, particularly mobile Internet devices, ultramobile PCs, and consumer electronics that are wireless-Internet-enabled.

Last month Intel let slip a glimpse of its future when it announced the Mobile Internet Device Innovation Alliance (MIDIA), a consortium of manufacturers that will develop a $500 device capable of accessing the Internet from anywhere and will be powered by two new Intel processor designs code-named Silverthorne and Poulsbo. Early reports said these UMPCs will run Adobe's Apollo multimedia platform for offline Internet apps, and (gasp!) Linux, not Windows, as their operating system. Microsoft managed to get back into the official MIDIA announcement, which read "Vista or Linux," but even so, it's a big change for Intel.

Change is necessary, obviously, and cost is the reason. The Nokia story makes that perfectly clear ... in an opaque sort of a way. The cell phone maker has licensed the Moore Microprocessor Patent portfolio, which includes patents that cover the separate clocking of a CPU and its I/O, the use of multiple cores and embedded memory, and fetching multiple instructions. If you're having a little trouble adjusting to the idea of a multicore processor in your cell phone, reread the previous paragraph. That's the cell phone marketplace of the future Intel is trying to define there.

And Nokia isn't likely to be buying Intel processors or Microsoft operating systems. They'll add too much cost to the product to let Nokia compete. That's where the Indian laptop story comes in. You can read the original story on the Times of India's Web site: The country's Ministry of Human Resources Development rejected the One Laptop Per Child project's $100 PC. Why? Because it's too expensive. The ministry is out to create a $10 laptop. So far, it's failed -- current designs are coming in around $47 (but that's OK, the OLPC machine hasn't hit $100 yet, either). The ministry has a two-year timetable, and odds are it will get down to its desired price point. It's not exactly a triumph of open-market capitalism -- the ministry is looking to Semiconductor Complex to help manufacture the machines. Semiconductor Complex is described as a "state-sponsored designer and manufacturer of integrated circuits." The road map is pretty clear -- $500, $100, $47, $10. And there don't appear to be any speed limits, either.

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