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A sea change comes to Intel

IDF 2011 Analysis Power outweighs performance
Thu Sep 15 2011, 17:53

THIS IDF CONFERENCE in San Francisco is special in one particular way. For the first time, Intel is an underdog in the fastest growing computer market segment - in this case, tablets and smartphones. And this seems to have affected the undertone of all the keynotes here.

It's just one word - power. While Intel clearly leads in server, workstation, desktop and general mobile segments, power consumption has prevented Intel from leading the ultramobile, tablet and phone segments as well. And for the first time, Intel is emphasising power savings on all of its current and future processors and platforms.

To find deep proof of this, just look at several new developments.

The Atom line, which always played second fiddle to the Core and Xeon lines in new semiconductor processes, will now be accelerated to match its bigger brethren within just two years. The added process technology jumps should enable Intel's x86 system-on-chip offerings to use the process advantage to match or beat ARM competition in terms of power/performance ratios, not just performance, all the way down to smartphones. The Bay Trail and Cedar Trail entries promise a lot here in terms of both features and performance per Watt.

The mainstream CPU core line, where Ivy Bridge will replace Sandy Bridge, also focuses on the power benefits of the new 22nm tri-gate process, where Intel mentioned having Ivy Bridge match Sandy Bridge CPU frequency at just over half the power, or have around a quarter more performance at the same power. But Intel accentuated the potential gain in terms of power savings. And, again, the initial Ivy Bridge platform entries will be mainstream desktop, and low power laptops, and of course, famed Ultrabooks.

Then we come to servers at the high end where, again, Intel has highlighted the power saving benefits of dense blades in cloud and datacentre implementations everywhere. Of course, the upcoming E5 Sandy Bridge and EN Xeon chips will also have some really high TDP parts for workstations, but the fashion fad is still low power parts.

Finally, we come to the first more detailed mention of the next major microarchitecture, Haswell, for 2013. And guess what, the only major detail unveiled about it is its 20 times power saving improvement in idle mode, emphasised during the CEO keynote. Yes, it would obviously enable Haswell tablets, among other things, not to mention all day use Ultrabooks, but the focus is clear.

Intel is going all out to beat its competitors on the 'green' power consumption front too. It already leads in performance nearly everywhere, and - likely due to the shareholder pressure more than anything else - the focus is now to take on and tame the last frontier, reducing the electricity bill.

On other, related fronts, Intel is also increasingly user-centric. This is the first IDF where we saw many anthropologists and psychologists dwelling on what the users want, how to satisfy both right and left brain and how that will impact future product wishlists. Then there is the impact of IT on family development and social networks, and such funny but seemingly ever more important subjects. We'll look further into some of these topics in our IDF reports later, starting with processors and platforms first. µ


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