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Intel shoots for dual cores, wireless profits

At the company's spring meeting for analysts, executives outline plans that include delivering dual-core chips and expanding in markets such as wireless communications.

Intel is expecting twins.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based powerhouse plans to move quickly to chips that contain two processors each--sometimes called dual-core processors--rolling them out for desktops, notebooks and servers at various times during 2005.

As next year comes to a close, Intel President Paul Otellini said, more than half of the "high-performance" chips that Intel ships will have dual cores. That means the chips will enter at the high end, coming in more expensive PCs at first. Otellini spoke at the company's spring analyst meeting in New York on Thursday.

Intel believes the dual-core approach will let it offer greater performance for desktops and notebooks while circumventing power-consumption problems. Dual-core chips offer more performance than their single-core counterparts by adding more parallelism, or the ability to do multiple jobs simultaneously. A dual-core processor could, for example, render a video on one core while running a PC's operating system and other applications on its other core, Otellini said.

Those abilities would prove particularly useful inside the digital home, where consumers are expected to record television programs on PCs or use them to share video or other content with various electronic devices. The two processor cores on a dual-core chip would also run at lower clock speeds, reducing overall power consumption, even compared with a single-core chip of similar performance, Otellini said. Chip power consumption tends to rise with clock speed.

Intel, which said last week that it had canceled its next generation of single-core processors for desktops and servers, has now dedicated its engineering resources to dual-core chips, Otellini said.

"Essentially, the design paradigm has shifted at Intel and all the resources we have are dedicated to multicore" processors, he said during his presentation. Later, during a question-and-answer session, Otellini said, "We could not ship desktop and notebook processors at 150 watts. We just couldn't do it." Right now, Intel's fastest desktop Pentium 4s, which run at 3.2GHz and 3.4GHz, consume about 90 to 100 watts of power.

The change should give birth to new software by letting developers tap the additional computing power of an extra core in future applications, Otellini said.

Intel may also jump to 64 bits with its dual-core desktop chips, a measure it already adopted for its Xeon server chips, due out later this summer, and its Itanium server chip. Rival Advanced Micro Devices also sells 64-bit-capable PC and server chips.

"We have the ability to turn 64 bits on as soon as the (forthcoming) Microsoft (64 bit Windows operating system) is completed and validated," Otellini said. But he predicted software is likely to take advantage of multicore chips sooner than it takes advantage of 64 bit capabilities.

Though Intel's plan is to focus on dual cores, it will continue to boost the performance of its current Pentium 4 and Pentium M single-core chips. The Pentium 4 will gain more cache--the pool of memory that holds data close to the processor core for quick access--increasing from 1MB to 2MB, for example. Intel has also fitted the Pentium 4 with a security feature designed to prevent buffer overflows, an often-used method of attacking Windows computers.

Thinking ahead The dual-core strategy may also underscore a different way of thinking for the company, as outlined by senior executives at the analyst meeting.

Instead of talking about clock speeds, as they often have in past meetings, the executives stressed Intel's approach to entire markets and outlined how they believe the company can sell more of its chips by taking advantage of occurrences such as the convergence of technologies. Going forward, Intel plans to boost its presence in the wireless computing and cellular communications markets, in addition to PCs, said Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO, in his presentation at the meeting.

"As the technology converges, that means that our opportunities expand. This is what we're putting all of our resources behind...(the) extension of our markets around the world," Barrett said.

Intel's Communications Group is working on a wide range of new products for networking, wireless computing and cellular phones, as part of an effort to return to profitability during 2005, Sean Maloney, Intel's general manager, said in his presentation.

In one example, Maloney said the company is planning to deliver several more generations of its PXA800F cell phone processor, a chip sometimes referred to by its code-name Manitoba, which includes a processor core, memory and a digital signal processor for use in high-end cell phones.

The division is at work on reinvigorating its flash memory business with new products, rolling out new network processors and also creating chips that will add additional wireless networking capabilities to notebook PCs and cell phones. It's creating chips for adding Wi-Fi into cell phones, for example, while brewing several different options that will add wireless formats such as Bluetooth for short range networking and WiMax for wide-area networking to notebooks.