Intel Outlines the Future of the PC – and the World

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The chip giant prepares for the supposed Post-PC world by doubling down on the PC. And everything else.

by Andy Patrizio

Once a year, Intel executives put away the polo shirts and Dockers and get out their best suits for Analyst Day, a time when the Intel offices ring with New York accents and you find the largest concentration of BlackBerry users perhaps anywhere.

Because these are the people whose research notes can make or break Intel’s stock, the C-level executives put their best foot forward and best spin on everything, which means no lack of boasting.

In the midst of all the chest thumping is some news and insight on Intel’s product plans and intentions, and this event was no exception. 

CEO Paul Otellini kicked things off, as he always does, laying out Intel’s view of the future. The company’s market is shifting. Last year, China surpassed the U.S. to become its number one market, and Brazil passed Germany and Japan to become the number three market.

Despite this, Otellini sees growth in super-thin laptops a.k.a. ultrabooks, as well as mobile devices, and data center chips. Intel is making its ultrabook push with the new 22-nanometer Ivy Bridge processor, which runs at lower power levels than the prior generation Sandy Bridge processor.

Intel is expecting 110 Ultrabook designs coming to the market by the end of 2011 and the company is “on track to meet our goal of 40 percent of the consumer notebooks this fall being Ultrabooks,” Otellini said.

On the Atom front, there was some news beyond the usual promises that have taken place at past Analyst Days. First, Intel is finally gaining traction with its new generation of chips for smartphones, the Intel Atom Z2460. Intel announced a partnership with Google last fall on Android, and has landed deals with Orange, Lenovo, ZTE, and Motorola to produce phones with the processor.

That was long overdue, said Nathan Brookwood, a semiconductor analyst with Insight 64, who listened in on the talks. “In years past, Intel always had to say ‘watch this space.’ This year they could actually talk about phones that are announced and or shipping in some key markets. People who have gotten their hands on those phones say battery life is respectable and performance is at the top or in second place in every one of the metrics. And the phones are pretty cool,” he said.

Clearly Intel takes this market seriously and really, really wants Apple’s business, since it’s leading in the smartphone and tablet markets and it uses the ARM processor in its tablets and phones

“iOS is developed on x86 architecture, they develop it on Macs and move it over [to ARM] ? Our job is to ensure our silicon is so compelling on either side in terms of running the Mac better or being a better iPad device, such that as they make those decisions they can?t ignore us,” said Otellini.

That said, Intel had new chips to discuss. Mike Bell, head of the Mobile and Communications group, said Intel has extended its mobile roadmap with two products, Merrifield for smartphones and Bay Trail for tablets. Both will be 22nm parts and ship next year, setting them up for use in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

More important, they will use a whole new microarchitecture, the first redesign of the architecture since Intel introduced the Atom processor in 2008. “The original Atom core is getting a little long in the tooth. They are doing something to update that is certainly timely if not overdue,” said Brookwood.

The final bit of news was a tease from Intel that it might go into the foundry business after all. The company is years ahead of pure foundry plays like TSMC and Globalfoundries and it has been suggested – by the CEO of Nvidia, no less – that Intel should go into the chip manufacturing business.

The company has done some work in the past, mostly for its own education. It worked with TSMC to make Atom SOC parts, which helped Intel learn how to make an SOC. That said, Intel hinted it would consider becoming a foundry for “select” customers if the opportunity proved financially viable, but not until it reached the 14nm process technology, which is at least two years off.

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