I'm at IDF (Intel Developer Forum) this week and this is Intel's big chance to prepare for Q4 sales, to embrace the developers, and to build confidence for the company and its products. You can't help but go to a show like this and be taken by the power that an industry leading company has. There is little doubt, regardless of its problems, that Intel leads the technology industry in microprocessors from the standpoint of volume - which generates the resources to create a show that only has its equal in Microsoft, the other industry leader.
For developers, this is their chance to see what is coming and to prepare for it. Intel's big push, like AMD's, is towards massive multi-core products - such as a showcased prototype 80 core part that is frighteningly powerful. It was also damn large and probably rather power hungry. But it may be just what my neighbor needs to build that android in his basement.
Apple and Intel sitting in a tree ...
I've been to a lot of IDFs and it isn't unusual to have a vendor on stage to talk about Intel technology. That vendor has never before been Apple and I don't recall any vendor being allowed to sell their entire line of desktop and mobile products during an Intel executive keynote before.
I was actually more dumfounded by that last because, historically, Intel has been worried that any vendor on stage would upset the vendors off stage and all are Intel customers. It was also very fascinating that Intel did a spoof on the PC vs. Mac TV campaign. Their point was that both use Intel but it reinforced the message that Apple machines were more trendy and cool.
Microsoft, on the other hand, was simply mentioned in passing like they were a relatively minor vendor in the overall scheme of things and not a particularly important one at that. It felt like, somehow, Apple had pulled Intel all the way into their camp. That is an incredibly amazing thing to see happen. I'm still a little dazzled.
Finally, given Lenovo was on stage during the previous keynote (but has since announced AMD support); it is interesting that Intel ripped the screen off of a ThinkPad notebook in one opening sketch. Only Apple, of the named OEMs, is Intel only right now and that clearly is something that isn't lost at Intel and, it appears, they might have been sending a not so subtle message.
The power of quad-core
OK, its hard for me to get excited about processors these days primarily because I know that, most of the time, my systems are bottlenecked by the network or graphics subsystem. However, they got me with the quad-core when they demonstrated physics on one of the cores in an impressive game demo.
This was a man against nature thing and the scenery was breathtaking, from the water to the game induced storms. I have no problem spending my evenings shooting aliens, zombies and other monsters, but nature scares the hell out of me post Katrina. And this thing was what I would call truly scary realistic.
Any demo where I walk away wanting the product personally is a good one and I wanted the quad-core personally; particularly if it came in the gorgeous Falcon PC box they had on stage to showcase the technology. It was iridescent blue and simply stunning to look at.
There are a number of us looking forward to the first head-to-head shoot out between Intel's quad-core product and AMDs 4 x 4 offering and, right now, I can hardly wait until we can see what these two platforms can do against each other.
My new car and my new UMPC
I know a lot of you have written off the UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC, called Origami by Microsoft) but Intel brought out a second generation prototype that was actually very cool. It wasn't how it looked, which was kind of clunky, but how it worked and that was impressive. Apple probably wasn't too excited about this part because, if successful, it would obsolete the Ipod.
They had VW come on stage and showcase what is likely the most expensive PC accessory that will be on the market near term. A new luxury car.
The UMPC, in this demonstration, was where you put all of your media and it would, once in proximity to the car, interconnect to the car's media systems. This allowed it to stream multiple videos (so each of the kids in the back seat using headphones could watch their own programming), music for the front seat all at the same time.
The UI was consistent in the car and on the UMPC (once again no Microsoft technology evident) and it all seemed to work incredibly well with a large, simple to use, and consistent UI. VW was on stage professing their corporate support for the program and, if it makes it to market with hardware that is priced right, looks attractive and works as advertised, I can picture guys who love technology going nuts over the result. Since I fall into that class, I was drooling all over my shoes at this point.
Flash is coming
No, not the super hero, flash memory integrated into PCs. They showcased a low cost laptop for the third world that had a flash drive and appeared well received by one of the schools lucky enough to receive a test shipment.
But, while this showcased Intel's more philanthropic side, what was being talked about was the use of flash to increase notebook battery life and general PC performance. I still expect Apple to be one of the first to take this technology and get it into production because the benefits appear incredibly powerful, if costs can be contained.
For notebooks it performs like a huge cache and works similar to how flash is used in the hard drive based Ipods by reducing the power needed for data access (only spinning up the drives when needed) and improves system speed by reducing application and OS load times. Of course, it also will make games load faster: I will not only be improving the overall game experience but making many, who are lucky enough to get this technology, more competitive in certain types of on-line games.
If there is something that just can't come fast enough for me, this technology - code-named Robson - is it.
Intel did a reasonably good job of showing us that they were back with a vengeance. On stage, they certainly were effective at getting me excited about a number of products I can't buy yet. Building interest in new products is the sign of a successful event.
They were visionary and they showcased a power in the industry that may be unmatched. Intel clearly has me looking forward to the Intel vs. AMD shootouts that will be coming in a few short weeks.
One thing that does strike me is that consumers are not yet buying into the multi-core products, either from Intel or AMD. Unfortunately, there isn't an industry organization positioned to help them fix this problem and it is unlikely one is going to call the other and suggest they cooperate on this project. That's a shame because both need to grow the market, because the extended price war in a slow market is really taking its toll from both firms.
The conference was nicely done this year and a credit to those who put it on.
Rob Enderle is principal analyst for the Enderle Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More news from the Fall Intel Developer Forum:
Multi-core processors may replace physics cards, says Intel
First quad-core workstation, server announced
Intel CEO announces Core 2 Quad