March 7, 2006 4:00 AM PST
Bruised Intel focuses forward
The Santa Clara Calif.-based chipmaker has stumbled on major initiatives in the past two years. In 2004, Intel entered, and then quickly got out of the market for big screen TV chips. Then other products that year were delayed. The year 2005 started strong with a new notebook lineup but a chipset shortage and market share gains by Advanced Micro Devices dented sales in the second half.
Last week, the company announced that first-quarter revenues would be slightly below expectations because of slow demand and market share losses. But company execs and some analysts have said the outlook will improve as the year goes on. Here's a summary of what's coming, and what will be shown at IDF this week:
Merom, Conroe and Woodcrest
By the end of the year, Intel will release a full array of processors based on a new architecture that derives somewhat from its notebook lines. Mooly Eden, vice president of Intel's mobile group, says the new line will give Intel a 20 percent performance advantage over AMD's best chips due out at the same time.
Eden's team will provide details on the architecture on Tuesday as well as show off reference-design notebooks with Merom. AMD hotly disputes the performance claims but has acknowledged that it won't undergo a major overhaul until 2007. Whether Intel can exploit the time advantage is one of the big questions in the chip world.
More multicore madness
Dual-core chips for PCs came out last year. Intel and AMD will come out with quad-core chips in 2007. During the next decade, chips with tens and possibly hundreds of cores will hit, according to Justin Rattner, Intel's CTO. He will speak Tuesday morning. Multiple-core computers will let consumers tackle several different tasks simultaneously, such as video recording while running virus checks. "I don't think consumers will do climate modeling, although given the way the climate is going, that may become a very popular thing to do in the future," Rattner said.
Sticking all those cores on a single chip, however, will mean that input-output devices, software and other aspects of computer architecture will have to be renovated. Several sessions at the conference will be dedicated to technologies such as silicon photonics (replacing wires with optical fiber in PCs) and transactional memory (a memory architecture that makes it easier for different cores to get data from the same chips). Much of the research for this will be conducted under the Tera-Scale Computing Research Program involving Intel and several university researchers.
Intel threw a series of chips at the cell-phone market for years with little progress. But last year it re-signed Research In Motion. Sean Maloney, general manager of Intel's Communication Group and one of the front-runners to be the company's next president, will highlight Intel's progress in a speech Tuesday. At IDF, Maloney is likely to be the one to show off the handheld Origami prototype PC that Microsoft will tout at CeBit in Germany this week.
Paul Otellini, who has served as CEO for a year, won't deliver a keynote at the conference, although he will attend. In the past, former CEO Craig Barrett did the same. But now that Otellini has one year under his belt and mandatory CEO retirement looming in 2009 or 2010, speculation will begin to center on who will become Intel's next president and Otellini's presumptive heir. Candidates include Maloney, sales chief Anand Chandrasekher and CTO turned enterprise-computing-head Pat Gelsinger, who will also speak at the conference.
Viiv versus Live
Intel unveiled Viiv, a line of home-entertainment PCs that will be used in conjunction with the TV, at the last IDF. AMD countered with Live, but it remains to be seen whether consumers will flock to either in any meaningful way.
Core Duo, the dual-core notebook chip released in January, and formerly code-named Yonah, will start to appear more in notebooks and thin desktops as the year progresses. Advanced Micro Devices won't come out with a dual-core notebook chip until the second quarter. Yonah also features a unified cache and some new technology for energy efficiency, two things AMD's chip doesn't have.
NAND flash memory
A year ago, Intel said it would produce chips for memory cards. It was a stunning reversal. At the end of 2005, the company announced a deal with Micron to produce NAND flash memory, the stuff used in memory cards. More details will be revealed at technical sessions Tuesday.
Confounding skeptics, Microsoft has said it will come out with a new operating system before the bankruptcy of the Social Security program. Vista comes in the second half of the year and sessions will be dedicated to the subject throughout the conference.
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