A rip-out-the-carpet PC refresh of both software and hardware is in the offing as Microsoft's latest operating system and new laptop designs converge later this year.
At the Intel Technology Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday, an executive described the imminent mobile future, including a major refresh of Netbook silicon, better-designed "ultrathins," and turbo-powered high-end laptops.
Netbooks may undergo the biggest change. Models that appear after Windows 7 ships in October will see the most significant overhaul internally since the Netbook category debuted back in the spring of 2008. Intel's new "Pine Trail" Atom silicon will collapse most of the core chips onto one piece of silicon, improving the power efficiency and boosting performance.
"There will be integrated graphics inside the same (processor) core so you get better performance," said Mooly Eden, general manager of the Mobile Platforms Group at Intel, describing how the graphics processor and main processor will be grafted onto the same chip--an Intel first.
The segment just above Netbooks is ultrathins. These sleek, sub-$1,000 laptops should appear in greater varieties from more PC makers later this year, according to Intel--about the same time Windows 7 hits the streets. Aesthetics will be crucial. "You can't sell a keyboard and a screen," Eden said, describing the ideal ultrathin laptop design. "You have to sell something that somebody will desire. We need to go beyond the great CPU, great performance...to something that a normal consumer can look at say 'I want that.'"
One of the challenges for Intel is making sure these sub-one-inch-thick designs don't overheat. Eden described the use of laminar air flow technology to cool a laptop's outer skin. "This is the difference between thin comfortable and thin uncomfortable," he said.
Intel is also designing new fans that are better at getting hot air out faster. "We are putting a lot of effort into designing fans," said Eden. Intel demonstrated the fan technology at the conference Wednesday.
And how does Intel see these segments breaking down into screen sizes? Netbooks will have 10-inch class displays, while the "sweet spot" for ultrathins will 13.3-inch, though some larger ultrathins may have 15.6-inch screens, according to Eden. He also said there may be "some experimentation" with 11.6-inch designs.
Higher up the laptop performance scale are Core i7 mobile processors, also due around the same time that Windows 7 hits the streets. Eden showed how the gigahertz speed--or "clock speed"--of individual mobile processor cores will instantly spike in performance to accomplish a task then, in the next instant, go idle--what Intel calls HUGI or Hurry Up and Get Idle.
HUGI is a power-saving technology: the faster a task is accomplished, the faster the processor can return to idle mode--a state that uses only the bare minimum of power. Along these lines, Eden did a demonstration of Turbo Boost technology.
In the demonstration, one of the cores (inside, let's say, a mobile quad-core chip), would jump well over the processor's rated speed. For example, a processor rated at 2.0GHz, for example, may run one of the cores at 2.60GHz (or higher) while the other cores are idle. In the gaming world, this is referred to as overclocking.
A common theme of all these laptop designs was power efficiency, above and beyond Intel's traditional message of performance. All-day computing--on battery power only--seems to be one of the major rallying cries within Intel.