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Intel connects with developers at forum

The Intel Developer Forum will serve as a showcase for the chipmaker and its allies to demonstrate upcoming products and discuss future standards and technological directions.

Downtown San Jose, Calif., will be awash in blue golf shirts this week, as engineers and executives arrive for the Intel Developer Forum.

The four-day conference, which runs through Aug. 30, will serve as a showcase for Intel and its allies to demonstrate upcoming products and discuss future standards and technological directions.

On Monday, a number of PC manufacturers will unveil new computers in conjunction with the release of the 1.9GHz and 2GHz Pentium 4 chips. Many of these new machines will sell for less than $2,000.

Intel also will show off a mobile version of the Pentium 4 for the first time and provide some concrete details on Banias, a mobile chip coming in 2003 that will extend battery life on notebooks, according to the company. Rival Advanced Micro Devices, meanwhile, will hold briefings at a nearby hotel on its upcoming chip plans.

Another dominant theme will be connections. Although computer processors increase in speed and power on a regular basis, the highways that shuttle data inside computers and between computers don't. Data clog has been the result.

To alleviate the congestion, a number of technologies will be coming to market, some of which will be shown off next week. A consortium of companies will provide the first public demonstration of Arapahoe, an interconnect standard that promises to speed the data paths connecting the processor to graphics subsystems or peripheral devices.

Currently, everything from modems to network cards plug into computers using the widespread PCI (Peripheral Components Interconnect) standard. PCI transfers data across 32 or 64 synchronized channels; increasing the speed of PCI would be prohibitively expensive.

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Steve Brown, Worldwide Manager of Intel Developers Forum Program, says that despite a slowdown in technology, the Intel confab this week will be the largest ever. (5:02)  
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Arapahoe (also known as 3GIO) will use fewer but much faster channels that don't require synchronization. Last month, PCI-SIG, a standards body, anointed Arapahoe as the successor to PCI.

In addition, the Serial ATA Working Group plans to release the final version of its ATA specification at the convention. The spec, when embodied in hardware, will allow for faster data transfers between drives--such as CD-RW or hard drives--and processors. Not only will this improve performance, but the elimination of connecting wires will let PC makers build smaller machines that generate less heat.

The convention also will be used as a forum by the InfiniBand Trade Association. While Arapahoe speeds up the links inside computers, InfiniBand speeds the connections between them, or between servers and storage systems. The first InfiniBand products should arrive in the first half of 2002.

In one demonstration, a group of IBM servers, connected to each other by InfiniBand lines joined into a switch built by InfiniSwitch, will collectively run a copy of IBM's DB2 Enterprise Extended Edition, a source familiar with the demonstration said.

Outside the PC market, Intel will use the forum to highlight its efforts to grab a wider swath of the handheld computer and cell phone markets. News about faster versions of the Xscale chip, which is used inside Compaq Computer's iPaq and other handhelds, is also expected. The chip tops out at 206MHz, but a 400MHz version has been in the works for some time, according to sources. The faster speeds will make it easier to run voice recognition or other complex applications.

New alliances with hardware manufacturers, carriers and application developers will likely be unfurled. Last year, Intel launched the Personal Internet Client Architecture, a blueprint for building wireless portables around Intel chips. So far, Palm, British Telecom and a number of contract manufacturers have endorsed the design. Rival Texas Instruments, meanwhile, has received the endorsement of Nokia and Ericsson, among others.

"We're getting a lot of companies endorsing" PCA, said Anand Chandrasekher, vice president of microprocessor marketing at Intel. "You need the content providers as well."

David Tennenhouse, director of Intel Research, will kick of the convention on Monday with a speech on current research projects and demonstrations of technological prototypes. Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, and Jim Allchin, a Microsoft vice president, will deliver the first keynote speeches at the convention Aug. 28.

Other speakers will include Ron Smith, general manger of Intel's Wireless Communications and Computing Group, and Sean Maloney, general manager of the company's communications products group.