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Intel chips to do double duty

As more and more transistors crowd their way onto silicon in the next few years, the company's processors will develop split personalities.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--In the future, Intel's processors will have split personalities.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker wants to take advantage of the huge number of transistors on the microprocessors coming out in the next few years. The company plans to produce chips with two or more processor cores--the calculating engine inside a chip--and make chips that can function as two processors, company President Paul Otellini said Tuesday morning at the Intel Developer Forum here.

A chip technology that will be available within five years, code-named Vanderpool, will allow users to partition the processor inside their computers. In a demonstration, Otellini used a PC to beam an episode of "The Simpsons" to a plasma TV, while another Intel executive booted and rebooted a game with the same machine.

"What we are doing is creating virtual machines inside the microprocessor," Otellini said. "You can run multiple versions of Windows or different operating systems."

Conversely, Intel will release Montecito, an Itanium chip that will be Intel's first dual-core processor, in 2005 and follow it with Tanglewood, a future version of the Itanium family of chips for servers that will contain multiple cores.

The dual-core concept also will show up in the Xeon line in the form of Tulsa, which will be released in about three years. Xeon is based on the traditional x86 architecture, which differs from the Itanium architecture.

Security technology LaGrande also will split functions inside a PC. Working in conjunction with Microsoft's Next Generation Secure Computing Platform, LaGrande will prevent hackers from using keyboard "sniffers" to steal passwords or scrape data such as credit card numbers from screens. The technology works by processing confidential data in a different manner.

Hooked on wireless
Otellini reiterated Intel's familiar themes about the growth of wireless and the convergence of computing and communications. Currently, a wireless access point is installed every 4 seconds, he said, and a new wireless client gets activated every second. During his speech, he showed off a prototype handheld called the Universal Communicator that can automatically switch between Wi-Fi and different cellular networks.

By 2010, around 1.5 billion PCs will be hooked up to broadband networks and there will be around 2.5 billion handhelds connected to broadband networks that contain processors that are as powerful as today's fastest Pentium 4, he said.

Otellini said Intel will come out with low-power versions of 802.11 chips. Earlier in the week, Broadcom announced a similar product.

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Technological progress will ultimately rely on following Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip double every two years. More transistors lead to greater performance and capability. "In so many ways, you can't fight Moore's Law," Otellini said.

Intel will continue to follow that maxim for years. The company will begin to ship chips made on the 90-nanometer manufacturing process by the end of this year. (Ninety nanometers refers to the average feature size of components on a chip. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.)

The company also has produced wafers on the 65-nanometer process, transistors on the 45-nanometer process, and prototype transistors for the 32- and 22-nanometer processes. That will take the company to 2011.

Intel will continue to increasingly look at the developing world for sales. North America now accounts for around half of the installed base of PCs. That will shrink to a quarter toward the end of the decade.

To better penetrate developing countries, however, Intel will have to redesign its products and lower the price points to suit these economies. In some countries, consumers may want to use a TV screen instead off a regular monitor. Increasing sales in those regions may involve coming up with new, derivative versions of the company's current chips.

"How do you bring value to people who have household incomes that are less than the cost of a PC?" Otellini asked.

Intel is hiring in these markets to better plumb market conditions.