April 16, 2007 6:00 PM PDT

Intel's chips taking on new work

BEIJING--Intel has new chips in the works that it hopes will power the next generation of consumer electronics devices and telecommunications servers.

Company executives unveiled the plans Tuesday morning in Beijing, where Intel followers are gathered for the Intel Developer Forum. The chips are both designed to use the x86 instruction set architecture. Dubbed "system on a chip" products, they have lots of crucial components integrated directly onto the processor.

Intel also disclosed plans for a project code-named Larrabee, in which the company will develop high-performance processors for specific applications like scientific computing.

The consumer electronics chips will be aimed at devices like set-top boxes and televisions. Intel already makes chips for this segment, but those chips are basically scaled-down versions of notebook processors. The new designs, scheduled to arrive in 2008, will be designed specifically for this category.

Intel also used its XScale handheld chips--now the property of Marvell--in these consumer electronics applications but now thinks that it can succeed by using x86 chips in those spots.

Rival Advanced Micro Devices has been touting a similar strategy, called x86 Everywhere, for several years, but the instruction set that runs most of the world's PCs hasn't been as much of a hit in the consumer electronics world.

The x86 instruction set has tons of software available that was written for that platform, something Intel thinks will help it gain a foothold in consumer electronics as well as telecommunications, which is where "Tolopai" comes in. Tolopai is a project to develop chips that have communications devices in mind, primarily at the carrier level.

Both strategies involve taking Intel's regular processor designs, integrating an input/output controller that connects those processors to external storage, and adding specific hardware for that particular application. For instance, the consumer electronics chips will have dedicated hardware units for video acceleration, among other things.

This makes it much easier to play high-definition video--plus do everything else--using a single processor, said Eric Kim, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group.

Intel launched a simliar chip on Tuesday called the Intel CE 2110 Media Processor, but that's based on XScale, and the company is clearly looking forward to next year's x86-compatible chip.

This type of integration helps reduce the cost of building products using Intel's chips--since one chip can do the work of four--and should allow software developers to bring new types of applications to these areas, said Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group.

Gelsinger also described Larrabee, which Intel positioned as a counterweight to Advanced Micro Devices' Fusion project. The project aims to integrate a high-performance graphics processor on the company's PC and server processors by 2008.

Naturally, most people have focused on the potential for powerful graphics as a result of that combination. But the design philosophies used to build graphics processors are also useful for a number of other applications, such as financial analytics or data mining, Gelsinger said.

"Larrabee ends the debate on GPGPUs (general purpose graphics processing units)," Gelsinger said. "This is what developers want." Although he avoided going into much detail, Gelsinger positioned Larrabee as easier to program than Fusion--which he never specifically mentioned--though it did not appear that Larrabee chips would be integrated into processors.

Gelsinger later clarified that Larrabee will appear a little later than AMD's Fusion project as part of Intel's terascale research projects. The company hasn't decided how many cores the Larrabee chips will have or exactly what they will look like, but it has decided that they will be x86-compatible and deliver 1 trillion floating-point operations per second, Gelsinger said.

The more near-term plan for competing with AMD's Fusion will come in the form of the Nehalem processor, which will have an integrated graphics chip in some iterations, he said.

Gelsinger also announced that Intel's Xeon chips for servers with four or more processors are set to receive an update. The Xeon 7300 processors, due in the third quarter, will be the first chips in this segment--and the last of Intel's major chip families--to adopt the Core architecture introduced last year.

Sin-Yaw Wang, vice president of global engineering at Sun Microsystems, joined Gelsinger on stage to announce plans to use the quad-core processors in two-socket and four-socket blade servers later this year.

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3 comments

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Intel's new chips-a great idea if intel is listening
Go to the store.
One of those big consumer electronics and or computer stores.

There are those $500,000.00 plasma and flat screen TVs.
Satellite receivers and projection TVs.

What don't you see?
Not ONE television, from $100.00 to $1,000,000,000.00 with a
USB port! Most of the DVD players, 100% of the ones I saw, SAME
THING!

Ya' know, about that new Apple TV box thingy that lets you send
images from computer to TV and back again? How about this,
marry that thing up to a Tivo, call Comcast and tell them, to
download all your favorite shows for the next three months onto
your 460 GigaByte hard drive and you will watch at least three
hours of commercials a week, heck let the commercials run
nonstop ion a dedicated channel from the hard drive-what
happens? NO ONE IS LISTENING AND THE CONTENT IS NOT
AVAILABLE EVEN FROM ITUNES, I know I TRIED ALL OF THIS!
Yeah, all this new techy is great, sure it is, oh yes it is, but the
people controlling the content need a spinal tap and a major
dose of open mindedness-people!
Customers, WILL PAY for what they want! We drive small ugly
cars for years just so we can buy a new Mercedes, Cadillac,
Bentley, Bugatti, eventually.
But intel,..I make it simple for you, put firewire, and USB on my
TV just like it is on my digital camera. Get rid of those funky
audio jacks from the age when Betamax was still kicking.
Make surround sound work BETWEEN electronic devices. Give
me the doorbell, wirelessly over my computer based intercomm-
a Universal Sound Buss (USB) such that all devices can share one
set of speakers without reprogramming the orbit of the sun
through the universe(put the equivalent of MAC addresses on
the speaker controller and put it in the speakers?!?).
OH AND INTEL DO NOT BE THE LAST COMPANY TO PUT A HEAD
UP DISPLAY (or projection) CLOCK AND RSS FEED ON MY
TELEVISION cause if you are, I will be forced to make it and
corner the market by getting the Chinese and Indians to build
and program it for me,..and,..I just would NOT want to hurt you
like that.

Okay, I am customer and I have spoken.
Are you listening,...?
Posted by ferrox (3 comments )
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Listen? We can't comprehend
Your writing style needs to be more structured if you want anyone to listen or read your rants. That was my first point. Secondly, for USB (Universal SERIAL Bus) to truly be useful, it will need to have a real interface to be used. Also, it is only just reaching speeds where the transfer of video/audio would be useful. The RCA a/v jacks are just fine, especially for legacy equipment. I can hook my mp3 player in via a Left/Right stereo plug adapter. the Apple TV is supposed to recieve the data from iTunes, not the other way around. Finally, sound does work between devices, it's simply that no one needs their doorbell hooked into their HiFi decks.
As for the RSS feed... do you *really* want your TV to need an IP address? we should switch over to IPv6 right now then, because otherwise you will be in for a rough time, as our pool of addresses is rapidly depleting.
Posted by ben::zen (127 comments )
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