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Intel: Different Chips, One Platform

Intel is blurring the lines of its various semiconductor products as the company shifts from a hardware manufacturer to a systems company.

The process, which Intel calls "platformization," is one of several themes at this week's Intel Developers Forum. The goal, according to Intel Vice President Frank Spindler, is to have two or three product families in different categories like Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, its Digital Home Group and its Mobility Group.

Bundling chips in groups breaks the assumption that "Pentium is only for the desktop" or "Xeon is only for servers," Spindler said.

"What you will hear is a reinforcement of a general strategy supported with marketing and branding programs but no so-called 'Desktrino' products for our PC product line," Spindler said, referring to Intel's mobile Centrino marketing juggernaut. "The next likely candidate would be for the digital home."

The transition has been under way for more than a year but was solidified during a recent management reorganization.

"Keep an eye on Don MacDonald in the Digital Home group. He was behind Centrino," Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for semiconductor research group In-Stat, told internetnews.com. "If it's not Desktrino, perhaps it's DigitalMediatrino, DMtrino or even Dimtrino? But that is the message: Finding new markets for the PC architecture."

To help with its platformization strategy, Intel will invite partners to showcase their support. Microsoft's Kirill Tatarinov is expected to take the stage Tuesday to discuss Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative.

Likewise, Graphics chipmaker Nvidia is preparing the first Nvidia product based on the Intel platform, a result of the cross-licensing agreement announced late last year. The company will demo a new chipset for Intel that includes SLI (scalable link interface), network security and storage technology for digital media assets like music and photos.

The other theme running through the show is dual-core and multi-core products. Intel has more than 10 multi-core projects underway. Dual- and multi-core processors, which consist of more than one core on one chip, are widely seen as a way to boost computing power, allowing servers, workstations and PCs to perform more functions simultaneously. Intel and AMD have been preparing for massive volume shipments of their dual-core chips in 2006.

Already Intel has made some adjustments. The chipmaking giant has structured its desktop architecture so that OEMs can use either the popular Pentium M or the less expensive Celeron processor with the Centrino family of mobile chipsets. Intel said Monday it would outfit both processors with its 64-bit addressing system, EM64T this year. The company also announced that its dual-core Pentium 4 processor, code-named Smithfield is now in production and its second-generation dual-core chip Prescott and Pentium M dual-core mobile processor code-named Yonah will launch sometime before summer.

Pat Gelsinger, Intel senior vice president and leader of the company's Digital Enterprise Group, is expected to expand on the company's promise to further blur the lines between Intel's workhorse Xeon chips and its high-end Itanium family. The company is reportedly developing its future Xeon and Itanium chips with compatible pin structures making it easier to upgrade from one 64-bit platform to the other.

Intel is expected to address its upcoming Xeon multiprocessor, code-named Potomac, with 8MB of L3 cache and its corresponding Twin Castle chipset. The Itanium lineup is also getting a boost later this year with the introduction of its 90-nanometer processed Montecito chip near the end of 2005, Intel said. The high-end system has been suffering from a lack of support.

Last month, Microsoft abandoned plans to drop development of an Windows XP operating system for Itanium. The move was hardly surprising since HP abandoned its Itanium workstation product lines back in September 2004. Dell dropped production of Itanium workstations in 2002, IBM shortly afterward.