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Intel's Otellini has company focused on low power

The CEO of the world's largest chipmaker wants hardware developers thinking about graphics, low-power applications, and Intel's determination not to let AMD get the best of it again.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
4 min read

With the next two generations of Intel's chips set in place, the company is looking forward to a low-power future.

So said Intel CEO Paul Otellini in his keynote address kicking off the Intel Developer Forum at San Francisco's Moscone Center on Tuesday. Intel will launch the server and high-end desktop versions of its Penryn generation of chips on November 12, in line with previous reports to expect those chips before the Thanksgiving holiday. And Intel has also completed the design for Nehalem, a more radical overhaul of the company's chip blueprints.

The more interesting news was Otellini's goals for Intel over the rest of the decade. The company plans to ship a generation of processors on its 45-nanometer manufacturing technology by 2009 that come with graphics integrated right onto the processor, similar to what rival Advanced Micro Devices has planned for its Fusion chips. Intel will be investing in a joint venture with KDDI, a Japanese telecom company, with plans to build a WiMax network in Japan. And as expected, Intel talked up its low-power chips for MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices), with plans to reduce the power consumption of its handheld computer chips by a factor of 10 compared with the Silverthorne processor, expected next year.

This is all part of Intel's search for growth, which has meandered a bit this decade. Still, you've got to have a strategy for the future, especially as the PC market matures over the next five to 10 years. That appears to have three legs: first of all, don't squander the base market of PC and server processors.

To accomplish that, Otellini has implemented a more gradual series of manufacturing transitions that makes sure the company doesn't try to introduce a new architecture with a new manufacturing technology, and that it doesn't go too long in between revisions to its chips. The hope is that this prevents AMD from catching it napping and losing significant chunks of market share, which is probably the best description of the years from 2002 to 2006.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini addresses hardware developers and the media to kick off the 2007 Intel Developer Forum. Tom Krazit/CNET News.com

The second is graphics. AMD is forcing Intel's hand a bit in this area, with its purchase of ATI Technologies last year and the resulting plans for Fusion. Intel ships more graphics technology than anybody else on the planet, but that's only because it ships so many low-cost integrated graphics chipsets in desktops and notebooks, not because that graphics technology is extremely compelling. But the company wants to improve its performance in that area, hiring engineers and purchasing companies like Havok to improve its hardware and software expertise in graphics technology.

And in the long term, Intel will attack the graphics market by accelerating the pace at which it develops graphics technology by using its most advanced manufacturing processes. Historically, Intel's integrated graphics products used older manufacturing technology too antiquated for cutting-edge processors, but that's changing.

In 2009 Intel will ship a processor that has 45nm graphics technology built onto the chip, and in 2010 it will introduce a chip for which both the CPU and the graphics technology were designed for the 32nm manufacturing technology slated for production during that timeframe, Otellini said. And for the high end of the market, and possibly the discrete graphics market currently owned by Nvidia and ATI, Intel will produce a processor called Larrabee with many configurable cores and a shared cache memory. Otellini said Intel will demonstrate Larabee in 2008, but didn't share launch plans.

The third area of focus is mobility. Intel wants to be part of whatever design becomes the most popular mobile device. Having shed its ambitions for mobile phones, it now plans to compete directly against the smart phone industry with the MID, sort of a handheld notebook PC that hasn't really attracted much interest as of yet.

In 2008 Intel will introduce Silverthorne, and beyond that an x86 processor called Moorestown for low-power devices like MIDs. There's no evidence at all that people want MIDs right now, but Otellini thinks that if Intel continues to reduce the power consumption of its chips, the designs and software for MIDs will continue to improve.

Those devices will have to connect to the Internet somehow to compete against smart phones that use cellular networks for voice and data. And Intel thinks that network will be WiMax. The company is working with Sprint and Clearwire to get WiMax service going in the U.S., and it will hit Japan with WiMax as part of its joint venture with KDDI.

So that's what Otellini said. As always, it's interesting to note what he didn't say. He didn't mention Microsoft once during his presentation, at least that I noticed. He didn't mention Viiv or any of Intel's previous efforts to develop PCs for the living room. And Itanium seems to have finally crawled offstage, at least as far as the CEO is concerned. Keynote speeches later today from Pat Gelsinger and tomorrow from Dadi Perlmutter and Anand Chandrasekher might clear up some of those questions, but it's always interesting to see what the CEO's priorities are during one of his biggest speeches of the year.

Stay tuned for more coverage of IDF, including a talk later today with Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, and much more on the future of mobile devices tomorrow.