Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The chip-making giant is poised to introduce an IA-based system on a chip for mobile applications

Database News : Thursday December 06, 2007


The chip-making giant is poised to introduce an IA-based system on a chip for mobile applications


Intel Corporation is preparing to enter the mobile Internet market with the imminent launch of a highly-integrated system on a chip (SoC) that is based on its x86 architecture. The company has been talking to "essentially everyone who's in the handset business who wants to put a genuine Internet in your pocket."

That was the message from Intel's vice president of sales and marketing Donald MacDonald, who promised some "interesting disclosures" at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January.

He said the future "had never looked brighter" for Intel with its core business around desktop, notebook and server PCs doing well and "this new opportunity in mobile devices."

Observing that IDC and Dataquest had forecast that a quarter of a billion PCs would be shipped next year, MacDonald said: "the opportunity to go way beyond the processor's relevance in so many aspects of lives, into handheld devices, navigation devices, is looking really interesting."

MacDonald, who also directs global marketing for Intel, was speaking in an exclusive interview when he said that the new initiative around the SoC, code-named "Canmore", would help bring the Internet or connectivity to the next billion users.

While less than 10 percent of the world's population had a PC, Intel was now looking at the other 90 percent, he said.

"And that means that you have to use your transistors, your semiconductors in a very different way."

He added that "the technical knowhow that Intel has to make a device faster, to make it lower-powered, to make it smaller, is exactly the same knowhow that will reduce cost for the next one billion, the next two billion users of technology on this planet."

One of the key enablers that would allow Intel to extend its x86 technology to the mobile world was "a breakthrough in our process technology using Hafnium as a key element on the production side," MacDonald explained.

He added that Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, had described this as "the biggest breakthrough in semiconductor technology in the past 40 years."

"It really has allowed us to essentially continue Moore's Law, but the benefits of that will be seen in incredibly small devices, in incredibly cost-effective devices so when you look at low-cost applications - the Intel transistor technology will make a profound difference there.

"You begin looking at small classes of devices that will give you full Internet on the smallest, pocketable devices," he said.

"Hafnium and the transistor technology will allow us to eventually deliver free transistors to the world," he said.

Explaining the rationale for Intel to enter the mobile market, now dominated by ARM and MIPS processors, the Intel vice president said that "up until now, there was really no real reason why Intel architecture would bring anything more than the existing incumbents would do, and so we hadn't really played in that space.

"However, when you begin to get these devices digital and connected on the Internet, the Internet was designed to run on a PC, and the PC was run on Intel. So, the minute you get any device - it doesn't matter whether it's a television, a Toshiba HDTV player or a handheld, Intel's value is that we run the Internet better than any other technology out there."

He noted that if you try to browse many web sites with a cellphone today, many of them would work - but many of them would not because sites used Adobe Flash or ActiveX controls."

All of the background Internet infrastructure was designed for the PC and Intel, so the minute you try and say "I want to have that experience in this category of devices" you have a problem, he said.

The only way you could get "no compromise Internet in your pocket" was to design it on Intel, he added.

However, now that Intel had developed SoC technology, you would be able to get "the full benefits of Intel architecture, the power consumption is milliwatts of power, it's no longer a watt, it's milliwatts of power, so its like a cellphone processor. The heat is trivial so, again, you can put them in the smallest, lightest activities. You get the best of both worlds.

"By designing on Intel SoC technology you're giving your customers an uncompromised Internet experience. So it's delivering that kind of value through our technology that says that's why we think we can have a presence in this category where, before, we had virtually no market segment share."

MacDonald also compared Intel's intention to enter the mobile processor market to the introduction of the Centrino platform that he had personally overseen back in March 2003.

The WiFi-enabled Centrino chipset had taken Intel from a three percent share of the WiFi market to be the No. 1 supplier of WiFi connectivity in notebooks worldwide, while the cost of a WiFi card had gone from $150 in November 2002 to being "essentially free" today, he said.

Asked for further details about the SoCs for mobile Internet access, he said that they were "a whole new family of system on chips... a completely different line from our traditional Core2Duo, Pentium and Centrino line of products.

"They have many of the same features, they're using essentially the same technology but they're highly, highly-integrated so you've got one system on a chip. Which is ideally suited to that class of device.

"So, in general, the design philosophy for Centrino was to provide the highest level of performance in any given form factor, and the SoCs, even though these are tiny devices, will have the best performance you can get in those kind of devices. That was the design goal," he said.

In April this year, Intel unveiled its CE 2110 Media Processor, a complete SoC architecture that combines a 1-GHz Xscale processing core with powerful A/V processing, graphics and I/O components, onto a single chip.

When "Canmore" makes its debut at the upcoming CES in Las Vegas, the SoC will be the first consumer electronics-optimised SoC based on Intel architecture, pairing a powerful IA processor with leading-edge A/V processing, graphics "and more" to help deliver greater performing, Internet-compatible devices, he said.

MacDonald said these SoCs would help manufacturers accelerate product delivery and deliver more cost-effective designs that provide strong processing performance and flexibility.

Intel is now poised to celebrate doing business for 40 years as well as the 60th anniversary of the transistor, which was invented in Bell Labs in the last two months of 1947, but MacDonald said that rather than have a party, Intel would be investing in education instead.

"What most people don't know is that in addition to selling the world's best technology, we've also trained five million teachers around the world in our "Teach to the Future" programme," he said.

"Right now, the emphasis is on ploughing back our efforts into education so rather than have a big party with beer and wine, we're actually increasing the amount we spend on science and math investments around the world.

"Again, teaching people to be able to appreciate the benefits of the transistor is more important than patting ourselves on the back for our role in the invention of the transistor," he said, adding "around the world, all of our corporate activities are really focussed on education at the moment."

He also noted a shift in marketing strategy, with a big move to the Internet: "Intel is making a massive move in the way we communicate with our partners, our customers, our friends around the world and it will increasingly be online.

"Next year from my marketing budget, for the first time ever more than 50 percent will be spent online. And that's a huge deal," he said adding that there would be a greater emphasis on local language communications and would involve investing completely in new Internet infrastructure around the world next year.

Asked for his views on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, MacDonald said that "anything that gets technology in people's hands is a good thing. Period.

"The more PCs that are sold in the world, as the world's leader of the technology inside them, the chances are that we'll be the biggest beneficiary. We're an ingredient company, so whether it's our ingredient in OLPC or whether its a Classmate PC or whether its an Eee PC from ASUSTeK. It doesn't matter which one prevails. The market will decide.

"It's not going to be Intel or Microsoft or Nicholas Negroponte or Craig Barrett. They're not going to decide. They're going to have an influence, but they're not going to decide. The market will decide," he said.

"What's more important to me is, are you going to allow teachers to say "How do I develop a curriculum using this technology." If it breaks, will someone be there to support it?

"That means that for education - we've been working in education for 15 years for development purposes - our experience has told us that there are two types of costs. There is the cost of buying the device and then there's the total cost of ownership on running it, maintaining it, using it.

"And our approach, as always, has been much more the holistic approach, so you've got to train the teachers, which is where teach to the future is so important. If you give it to a teacher and that person doesn't know how to use it, it's a waste of money.

"If you've got help them develop curriculum so that children can use them. So we basically view that the teacher is going to be the most important person in this overall process. Giving it to the child is good. They'll love it. But it's much more powerful if the teacher basically can realise the full potential of the full initiative," he said.

"Anything that gets technology in kids' hands is great. And we're confident enough to know that our technology, if you're looking at lowest cost, highest performance, longest battery life... our technology is designed to be the best solution for whichever system is to going to be successful," MacDonald said.

"So if OLPC is successful, my forecast is that it will end up preferring to have an Intel chip in there. If classmate PC is successful, by definition it has an Intel chip in there. If ASUSTeK is successful - it's a very successfully-selling product at the movement - they're sold out - that contains an Intel chip today.

"Around the world, that notebook is being sold for $399 and so getting it down to the kind of price points where you open it up to a huge number of children being able to afford that technology, there's multiple ways to achieve that goal. But my forecast is that all of them will be best served by eventually deciding to use an Intel chip. Simply because it's one of the design criteria.

By : Bangkok Post

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