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RealTime IT News

Intel's Menu Chocked with Dual-Core, Mobile Chips

Intel is putting its trust in its mainstream products even as it changes how the chips will perform in the next few years.

A quartet of high-level executives with the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaking giant briefed analysts Thursday on the company's roadmap, reaffirming a shift to dual- and multi-core architectures as well as the improved mobile processors it hopes will continue to power the surge in Wi-Fi hardware.

"Mobility is the killer application," CEO Craig Barrett said during the briefing. "Digital technology is transforming the world around us and, really, causing changes in everything we do."

Earlier this week, the company debuted its 90-nanometer "Dothan" core for its fabled Centrino chipset. Intel CFO Andy Bryant said the company has already seen the fruits of the Wi-Fi craze saying that it has raked in some $3 billion in sales since last year's Centrino launch.

The next phase will be Intel's Sonoma platform, which is expected to influence its Pentium M chips with improved graphics, TV out and support for security 802.11i, and 802.11a, b, and g. The notebooks will use ExpressCards based on PCI Express and DDR-2.

Sean Maloney, Intel's executive vice president and general manager of the Communications Group, said the company is poised to take advantage of the development of WiMAX (802.11.6) wireless MAN networks and is anticipating including the technology in its notebook chipsets in 2006.

COO Paul Otellini clarified the company's position on abandoning its single-core architectures. Last week, Intel confirmed it was dropping development on its Pentium "Tejas" and Xeon "Jayhawk." Intel said it would now move on its plans to migrate most, if not all, of its processors to dual core models by 2005.

"Most software application developers operate under a constraint that compute power at the PC is limited, with a certain amount of MIPS available," Otellini said. "With multi-cores, software developers turned that whole paradigm around with unlimited instruction cycles. They can dedicate an entire core to the user interface, or to rendering, or to firewalls, or security. It unleashes them from the constraints."

Despite dispelling rumors that its 90-nanometer process had heat and leakage problems, some analysts are seeing contradictions in the company's message.

"Paul's assertion that 90-nm didn't have a power problem doesn't jive with his other comments like 'hitting a power wall' and the need to tweak the Prescott design to allow it to reach 4GHz with acceptable power. If Intel can't scale its processors to higher clock speeds because that would require too much power and then you have to change product plans ('the right hand turn') -- I would call that a form of problem."

Intel also pointed to its 64-bit extension technology -- EM64T -- as a natural process of bringing Xeon and Itanium chips closer together. The company said the technology now found in its single-core Pentium 4 "Prescott" chips would be expanded to an unnamed dual-core Pentium in the second half of 2005.

Otellini also pointed to opportunities in the new emerging the "white book market." Similar to the generic computer, or "white box" movement, of the '80s and '90s, Otellini said original design manufacturers (ODM) want to participate and the channel-ready ones are looking to Intel to participate in this segment.

"We've been working with ODMs and other component manufacturers to help enable a white book marketplace over the last couple of years," Otellini said. "We've had record deployments and expect the channel portion of our mobile units to double in 2004."

Intel also debuted its next-generation Intel Itanium "Montecito" chips. The dual-core processors with 24MB of cache are scheduled to go into full production in 2005. Otellini held up a 12-inch wafer during the presentation saying it is Intel's first 90-nanometer Itanium with a record 1.7 billion transistors on each chip.

"Yes, they're full force on dual cores although, unfortunately, the implementation details are still lacking," Gordon Haff, senior analyst and IT advisor at Illuminata, told internetnews.com. "There's a widespread belief that Pentium M is going to be at the heart of those designs but, although that would be logical, Intel isn't saying.

Goldman Sachs issued a brief Friday suggesting that Intel's roadmap will ensure that the company will still reign supreme over its closest rival AMD and low-power upstart Transmeta in the processor marketplace as well as keeping Wi-Fi chipmakers Broadcom and Texas Instruments on their toes.

Intel is expected to brief its shareholders on its sales progress next week in Santa Clara.