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This week in Intel

Chipmaker gives developers a glimpse at its future, including dual-core chips, consumer flash memory and--Apple?

Intel offered developers a peek this week at its future, including dual-core chips, consumer flash memory and--Apple?

The chipmaker kicked off its Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco with the announcement that it is working on 15 different multicore chips at the moment for the server, notebook, desktop and networking markets.

Dual-core chips for the desktop market, code-named Smithfield, will appear in the second quarter, about the same time as a dual-core Itanium chip, code-named Montecito, arrives. Smithfield, which will be marketed as an Extreme Edition Pentium 4 chip for gamers, will run at 3.2GHz, slower than single-core chips on the market today, and have an 800MHz bus.

Though the first chips will have two cores, future chips will have four or more cores. On many chips, particularly in the server market, each core will be able to process multiple threads at once, and thereby further increase performance. Typically, adding threads and cores lets a computer do more tasks at once and/or run individual applications much faster.

Intel also unveiled a way to open the data paths between chips, a move that could help overcome a huge hurdle in increasing processor performance. Called through-silicon vias, or TSV, the technique involves stacking chips vertically in a package and then creating connections between the bottom of the top chip and the top of the bottom chip. These wires will greatly expand the means to exchange data between chips, sources said.

In 2001, Intel Capital, the chipmaker's venture arm, invested in a company that has a TSV application. Semiconductor processing specialist Tru-Si Technologies, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., shows how the technology works on its Web site.

The chipmaker is also planning to start producing flash memory for consumer electronics devices, which typically sell for less than cellular flash, Intel's historical strength. Following that move, the company will begin to make flash for memory cards, a fast-growing market that's been lucrative for Samsung and Toshiba in the past few years.

Getting into the card market, however, will require adding a new and different type of memory to Intel's development process and production lines. The company currently makes only NOR flash, which is highly reliable and used to store software code. NOR, however, is less dense than the NAND flash made by Samsung and Toshiba that's used in cards to store data such as MP3 files and photos.

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Intel has also put its "Intel Inside" moniker on an Apple Computer machine, but it's not the product some have been hoping for. For a long time, people have suggested that Apple make its Mac OS X operating system work with Intel chips. While the Mac maker has not done so, it has used Intel processors in one of its recent products--the Xserve RAID storage system.

Intel included one of the rack-mounted storage systems in a display at IDF. The use of an Intel chip does not appear to be part of a broader trend, however. Apple has resisted demands to move away from the PowerPC chips made by IBM and Freescale Semiconductor.

Regardless, Intel seems to appreciate that the imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Intel showed off its living room PC of the future--and it looks a lot like the Mac Mini.

The concept computer, the Sleek Concept Entertainment PC, is a square, metallic-colored device immediately reminiscent of the desktop computer Apple introduced earlier this year.

It's unlikely that Intel itself would build such a device. The chipmaker often uses its twice-yearly developer events to try to spur creativity among computer makers. Past efforts have seen PCs twisted into all sorts of shapes and even embedded in an Ottoman foot rest.

An Apple representative declined to comment on Intel's design.