Week in review: Intel doubles-down

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

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Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
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Intel offered developers a peek this week at its future, including dual-core chips, consumer flash memory and--Apple Computer?

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 sells 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.


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.

A little security?
Service provider PayMaxx shuttered additional parts of its online payroll site this week, after a Web programmer continued to find holes in the system. PayMaxx's further closure of its Web services comes after a Web programmer, Aaron Greenspan, discovered that the company's initial attempt to block malicious access had fixed some flaws but left others unresolved.

While still referring to the data leak as "limited in scope," the online payroll processor closed down its PayView and Instant W2 services, the company said in a statement. The services will remain down until PayMaxx has completed a thorough security analysis and redesigned the site's architecture.

The dispute between PayMaxx and Greenspan, president of Web services start-up Think Computer and a former PayMaxx customer, over the security of the company's Web site continued this week. PayMaxx referred to Greenspan as a "hacker," while the Web programmer maintained that the security problem is far worse than divulged by the payroll company.

Meanwhile, an e-mail security scanning company accidentally deleted thousands of its customers' e-mails. GFI, a Microsoft "gold certified partner," is offering free upgrades to all its customers, after it trashed their e-mails by sending out incorrect update information.

According to GFI, the problem occurred because of a change in BitDefender's technology, one of the products that GFI uses for its e-mail scanning. When the GFI MailSecurity update mechanism tried to install BitDefender updates on customer networks, the service started to delete all e-mails by default. BitDefender and GFI then rolled back the updates.

In a move to assuage consumer fears, online financial firm E*Trade Financial pledged to send key fobs that generate security codes to major traders as added protection for their online accounts. E*Trade users who adopt the thumb-size devices will have to enter a six-digit key generated by the key fob in addition to their user name and password.

Traders who make at least 15 trades a quarter or carry a minimum account balance of $50,000 can apply to be part of the new program and will receive the security device for free. The financial company announced the move in answer to sharp consumer concerns over online security resulting from several high-profile data leaks.

Search for success
Local search was a central focus of all the players at the annual Search Engine Strategies conference. Google, for one, updated its local search tool to include Google Maps, a graphical guide to regional addresses and directions. In addition, it now provides editorial reviews for local businesses, including such data as hours of operation or whether Wi-Fi access is available.

America Online is promoting new search tools that help people home in on local businesses and entertainment--buying movie tickets online or reserving a table at a restaurant, for example. The company plans to launch a new local search service for mobile phones later this year.

Yahoo announced that its search network is embracing Web services and that its commercial subsidiary is taking a new name. The company has created the Yahoo Search Developer Network, which will allow software developers to create new applications (with the aid of application programming interfaces, or APIs) on top of Yahoo search, including images, video, news and local search.

In addition, Yahoo is shedding the Overture Services brand roughly 20 months after Yahoo agreed to pay $1.63 billion for the commercial search pioneer. The company has renamed the unit Yahoo Search Marketing Solutions.

Yahoo, which turned 10 on Wednesday, celebrated by offering a free scoop of ice cream to its customers. People could visit Yahoo to download their coupons for a free 2.5-ounce scoop of their favorite ice cream at any Baskin-Robbins outlet in their neighborhood.

A 10-year-old child, however, may have been blocked from the free ice cream offer. Under a 1998 federal law called the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, Yahoo isn't permitted to collect information from anyone under 13.

Also of note
A federal appeals court partially reversed a lower-court decision that had exposed Microsoft to $565 million in damages...To commemorate the 40th anniversary of "Moore's Law," the Marconi Foundation at Columbia University will bestow its Lifetime Achievement Award on Gordon Moore, the law's author and Intel co-founder...Despite the threat of phishing attacks, online businesses saw an 88 percent rise in revenue over the holiday season...Jef Raskin, the computer interface expert who launched the Macintosh project for Apple Computer, died at age 61.