San Francisco (CA) - Taking the stage bright and early and in rapid succession were the two men most responsible for Intel’s mobile products, Dadi Perlmutter and Anand Chandrasekher. They brought forth a vision for Intel sees as the future of mobility. And it’s a lower power, greater performance, IA-32, always connected mobile world of wide MID (Mobile Internet Device) use.
We learned that Intel broke all previous attendance records this IDF with more than 5,000 attendees. I can tell you that the three day event is not far from being a madhouse.
Referred to affectionately as “Mr. Penryn” in social circles, he is senior VP and general manager for Intel’s Mobility Group. And it was his group that brought forth Penryn, the foundation for all of Intel's next-gen processors. He spoke with me the evening before his keynote on aspects of concern, which fed into the decision to include in this "tick" cycle of Intel's tick-tock cadence, which is just supposed to be a process shrink, so many new features. He spoke about the risks and gains and told me that in the end, Intel was able to move forward with the new technology additions, because the risks were manageable and the gains were necessary to have a competitive advantage.
Permutter’s keynote address focused primarily on the evolution of mobility and where we are going. He started out by showing a long line of previous mobile devices. Many of these were the size of suitcases. He had the Osborne Computer. The Compaq portables from the late ‘80s. The Toshiba portables from the ‘90s. He claimed that “real mobility" began with Centrino architecture and the Banias CPU.
Centrino was born in 2003. It made the process shrink to 90 nm via Dothan in 2004. Sonoma followed in 2005 with Napa in 2006. This year has seen Santa Rosa, which will also be getting a refresh, as upcoming Penryn 45 nm processors are completely backward compatible with only a BIOS flash. And finally, Montevina will be coming out in 2008.
The notebook sales curve spoken about yesterday has shown to have a consistent drive. In fact, when consumers were actually polled on what device they would most like to buy the desire to buy mobile right now exceeds 50% by a large margin, Perlmutter said. It is only some limiting factors which keep people from buying more mobile products, and it’s not always cost. There are some components of performance that are desired for types of gaming, media content creation and an overall responsiveness and feel which sometimes can only come from a desktop, the executive noted.
According to Perlmutter, there were four specific barriers keeping the main public from adoption. They are performance, affordable always on wireless networking, form factor and battery life. New barriers are surfacing as products become more accepted. These are things like data protection or theft. He gave a quick story to relate this, one that I could especially relate to. He asked “how many of you when you go through an airport terminal and they X-Ray your notebook are concerned that your data might not be there?” There was a hushed lull among the crowed as I think each and every one of us has that thought when we travel.
“Despite what many people try to tell you, especially those who do not have it, that performance doesn’t matter anymore: Performance does matter,” Perlmutter said. He agreed that text editing and basic emailing does not require a whole lot of horsepower. But it’s not just about those things any more. Today it’s about video, rich media experiences and people are wanting to do more video editing and content creation.
Intel is pushing into the areas of low-power performance. New products are promised to be approaching the doubling of work compared with Banias, which was launched just 4 years ago. There are graphics and media needs which Perlmutter believes Intel will hold design technology leadership positions in by moving forward in a step-by-step manner like tick-tock. It is part of Intel's promise to increase performance 10x by 2010.
People are interested in form factors, obviously. Small is sexy. It is for this reason that the upcoming products will be much more compact. Intel representatives mentioned that the company is working on reducing the design packaging by up to 60%. This includes the size of the motherboard, allowing OEMs to produce even smaller products with the same abilities and compute power. And, we would have 10x greater performance with another 10x reduction in idle power consumption by 2010, the company promises.
According to Perlmutter, Nehalem CPUs will be coming into notebooks, running up to 16 threads. This means either dual-socket quad-core versions or, more likely, 8-core processors.
Broadband wireless – WiMax
Intel is strongly pushing WiMax. Extremely small products that fit into the same place as Wi-Fi modules today were demonstrated and looked ready for commercialization. Interestingly, these new chips carry both WiFi and WiMax on a single chip. The Echo Peak wireless chipset, scheduled for a 2008 release for Penryn as part of the Montevina platform, will be Intel's first Centrino product to integrate WiMax capability.
Perlmutter said that WiMax will be introduced in all ASUS mobile products and that it will “fundamentally change the communication landscape” as this technology is currently employed as an “end-to-end solution across 5 continents.” This involves 350 trials today and an upcoming launch with Sprint here in the U.S. The company expects to have a leadership position in the WiMax arena down the road: “The horse is out of the stable and it’s running around the track, and there’s not another horse in sight,” Perlmutter said.
Solicitation for support
However, Intel apparently isn't so sure about the direction WiMax will take, other than the fact that we all may be using it one day. There was a solicitation or invitation for IDF attendees to begin thinking of uses we might have for such a technology.
The general Internet will undoubtedly be there, but some of the demos we saw at IDF provided some really unusual uses that most people wouldn't generally think of. For example, a WiMax enabled golf cart was demonstrated, one with a GPS which could tell you how many yards you were away from the pin. It's things like that may take this always on/always connected Internet to a whole new level. And the invitation made by Intel was a literal one. "Help us figure out ways to use this technology."