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Intel's Perlmutter talks Sandy Bridge, tablets (Q&A)

Intel exec David "Dadi" Perlmutter sits down with CNET at IDF to discuss the technologies that will define the chipmaker over the next 12 months.

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel Executive Vice President David "Dadi" Perlmutter sat down for an exclusive interview with CNET Monday at the Intel Developer Forum here to discuss the technologies that will define the world's largest chipmaker over the next 12 months. Permlmutter hit on the company's Sandy Bridge chip, tablets, and competition from the satellite of ARM processor makers.

Intel executive VP Dadi Perlmutter followed CEO Paul Otellini's keynote on Monday.
Intel executive VP Dadi Perlmutter followed CEO Paul Otellini's keynote at the Intel Developer Forum on Monday. James Martin/CNET

Q: What are the marquee features that differentiate Sandy Bridge from its predecessors? (Sandy Bridge is Intel's new microarchitecture that will eventually span its laptop, desktop, and server processors and is due to appear in chips and systems early next year.)
Perlmutter: First of all we re-architected the microarchitecture so it delivers significantly more performance. And the integration of graphics and media onto the same silicon. There are basically three big effects. One, 32 nanometers (Intel's newest manufacturing technology) allows a large transistor budget. Then, the ability to reduce the power. Before we could shut off (processing) cores to save power. Now we can do this with graphics too. We haven't talked about battery life yet, but you can bet there is going to be very good battery life. And (next) the ability to use the cache (high-speed on-chip memory)--a lot had to be done to maximize this for media performance. What all of this really means is accelerating capabilities that users really care about.

Can you address market segments for Sandy Bridge?
Perlmutter: Usually, we start with the mainstream high-end and then it goes to extremely low power and then to places like the data center. We have mix-and-match modular design capabilities and we can use different building blocks to create a more optimized solution for specific market segments.

What's Intel's tablet strategy in the face of the immense popularity of Apple's iPad?
Perlmutter: I think the tablet is a wonderful companion device. But we're not talking specifically (about tablets) because we want to be talking when something is shipping. Should we do more to enable companies to get into the market? Yes, that's why we do MeeGo (operating environment) and system integration. (But) we'll have to do more work to get the ecosystem going like the PC, which is a well-greased thing that took 30 years to build. (For example), look at WiDi technology. The fact that we can take that from a PC and put that on a tablet. (Intel demoed a WiDi tablet during a Monday morning keynote.)

And what about the tablet's architecture?
Perlmutter: You could use Oak Trail (a future system-on-a-chip Atom processor for Netbooks and tablets), you could use Moorestown (Intel's current system-on-a-chip), and maybe a dual-core (chip) for more capable devices and a single-core for low power. We're a supplier, that's why we want to enable more than one customer.

What about the brave new world of competition for Intel? In the smart device market, it's no longer one rival (AMD) but a host of ARM rivals, including Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and Freescale.
Perlmutter: That's true. It's a new world. My job is to make sure we have a good chance to win. We're ahead on process (manufacturing) technology. That allows us to take power (consumption) down rapidly. And we understand computing (versus the smartphone focus of ARM technology companies).

And what advantages do you see on the ARM side?
Perlmutter: They have an ecosystem. I don't think that's a huge thing to surmount. But it's something we need to do. Our ability to compete against that ecosystem. There are a lot of companies that we have to watch. And a broader set of problems that we have to deal with. I think we're capable of it. We've done it in the past.