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Wireless the word for Intel

Outlining plans for future PCs and other devices, Intel hops on the wireless bandwagon, pushing the "killer app" many hope will revive the PC market.

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
4 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Intel's strategy for desktops, notebooks and handhelds can be summed up in one word: wireless.

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Executives at the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant sketched out the company's plans for future PCs and other devices Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum here. The dominant theme lay in how they will be hooked up to the Internet or to other machines without the use of cables.

In desktops, Intel said it will work with Sony, Microsoft and other developers to solidify standards for the so-called Extended Wireless PC, which will hook up to TVs, stereos and other home-entertainment devices wirelessly. Such PCs will begin to emerge toward the end of this year, said Louis Burns, vice president of Intel's Desktop Group.

In notebooks, meanwhile, Intel provided more details on "Banias," a new mobile processor coming in the first half of next year. Among other features, Banias notebooks will come with integrated dual band Wi-Fi (802.11 a and b) wireless networking.

"Well over 50 percent of notebooks in the next year will be configured with wireless, and over 80 percent of the Banias notebooks will have dual band wireless," said Anand Chandrasekher, vice president of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group. "Banias will become the predominant architecture for notebooks."

Intel also plans to introduce a major expansion of the capabilities of its XScale processors used in handheld devices such as HP's iPaq, said Ron Smith, general manager of the Wireless Communications and Computing Group. The chip will understand a set of new instructions, called Wireless MMX, to help it decode video, convert speech to network data and play 2D and 3D games, Smith said.

Killer app?
Wireless MMX is a recycled version of the multimedia extensions technology Intel developed years ago for its Pentium processors. Wireless MMX improves video decoding performance 40 percent to 60 percent, Smith said.

The company will also come out with improved software-developer kits to make it easier to port applications to the Pentium family, to XScale and to the IXA family of network processors, Intel President Paul Otellini said.

Wireless has become the "killer app" that many PC manufacturers, software developers and others are hoping will revive the PC market. The explosive growth in cell phones, the continuing strength in the notebook market, and consumer interest in products such as personal video recorders and home networking have made it clear an opportunity exists.

While a successful push on wireless will help Intel sell more processors, it could also help the company jump-start its moribund Communications Group because Intel will promote its own Wi-Fi chips for these new PCs. In fact, the company will only qualify, or pretest, Banias with its own 802.11 a and b chips, said Chandrasekher, making Intel's communications chips the de facto choice for notebook manufacturers.

Aside from wireless, Intel disclosed still more details on Banias. The chip will come with 77 million transistors, more than the 54 million found on the current Pentium 4, but the chip will consume low amounts of energy. It will run on less than a watt of power while idling, less than current Intel chips. Banias notebooks will also be thinner and lighter; Intel has managed to shrink some of the insulating components, which draw hot air out of the notebook.

Internally, Banias will contain a number of power-saving features. Micro Ops Fusion, for instance, will combine routine instructions and tasks together and thereby save time and energy. Chandrasekher likened the process to a bunch of people at the airport sharing a cab, rather than taking separate taxis.

Advanced Branch Prediction will let the processor better schedule tasks, and different parts of the chip, such as the system bus and even the Wi-Fi chips, will also shut down when not in use to conserve power.

"Expect to see at least an hour more of battery life," Chandrasekher said.

To improve security, the company is working with VeriSign, Check Point Software and iPass, among other security-software makers, to tune various firewalls and virtual private networks for Banias, Chandrasekher said.

Intel will work with VeriSign to create a security chip for notebooks based on the Banias processor. The chip, which PC makers will be able to build into notebooks, will include VeriSign's Personal Trust Agent software. The software will allow notebook buyers to use authentication technology like digital certificates and encryption, among others, to make things like messaging more secure.

In the future, Banias will adopt technologies invented for the desktop family, such as LaGrande, announced yesterday, which shields data on a PC from viruses and hackers, Chandrasekher added.

Chandrasekher declined to provide speeds for Banias but said it would be more powerful than existing Pentium chips for the category of notebooks--the small and light variety--it will be incorporated into. Sources say Banias will run at 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz, 1.6GHz and possibly also 1.3GHz at launch.

News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.