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Intel Developers Forum 2010 in Review

IDF ended last week and the message as always is that Intel has the technology for the future today.  The company continues to deliver ever increasing performance and features at lower price and that it delivers on its promises on time. Intel is also trying to expand its reach beyond the traditional computing market.  Computing is still the cash cow for the company, so it still garners a lot of attention.  But Intel needs to broaden its markets in order to continue growing.  The company showed off technology that covers the gamut from high end computing (data centers and cloud computing) to mass market consumer (smart phones, TV, etc.) and even embedded control. In his keynote speech to kick off the event, Intel CEO Paul Otellini presented the “three pillars of computing” for Intel.

  • Energy Efficient Performance
  • Security
  • Internet Connectivity

Sandy Bridge The big news that has been anticipated was around Intel’s next generation MPU microarchitecture – Sandy Bridge.  This is a 32nm design.  It is the “tock” following” Westmere “tick” in its “tick-tock” model for MPU evolution.  Westemere is the current Core i7/i5/i3 generation on 32nm. The only information on the roadmap is that PC client systems and low end server (1P – single socket) with Sandy Bridge will launch early 2011.  Mid-range servers (2P – dual socket) will launch mid to 2H 2011.  The high end servers (4P and greater) are not expected until the end of 2011 or maybe early 2012. The next MPU family, the “tick” is called Ivy Bridge.  This is essentially Sandy Bridge on 22nm.  Historically, Intel does more than a straight forward die shrink on a “tick.”  There are usually some enhancements to the layout and some tweaks to the design.  Systems with Ivy Bridge are expected to launch 2012.  Otellini said that 22nm wafers are currently running.  Product will be ready for 2H 2011.  It takes time to build up inventory and qualify parts for system production, so the 2012 date for OEMs seems right. There were no detailed platform roadmaps for Sandy Bridge as seen in prior IDF’s.  Even in the “hush-hush” NDA sessions for the analysts, there were no roadmaps shown.  Evidently Intel is still figuring out the product SKUs.  This is a consequence of the new Sandy Bridge architecture.  In Sandy Bridge Intel has integrated the North Bridge of the chipset which includes the memory controller and GPU.  Rather than just bolt the north bridge design onto the same die as the CPU cores, Intel has pretty much “shuffled” the features together to eliminate system bottlenecks.  The GPU is connected to the CPU cores via the LLC (Last Level Cache, aka L3 cache).  Intel is touting its Ring Architecture that ties together these elements and reduces latency.  It is a modular design so Intel can scale dual-core, quad-core and higher.  No word at this time what configurations and L3 cache sizes will be released or precisely when. BTW the brand name for the new Sandy Bridge MPUs will be “Second Generation Core i7/i5/i3.” Expanding Beyond Computing Intel wants to build its business outside of computing.  Atom is the key to this growth.  There was not much new info on Moorestown and Medfield.  These are the designs for the smart phone market.  There was a good deal of focus on netbooks and tablet PCs as noted in prior Semico Spins. There are two key areas that Intel spotlighted for future Atom growth – SmartTV and embedded control. Intel had a large pavilion for the SmartTV.  There were vendors with Atom based designs such as the Boxee from DLink and GoogleTV.  These are IPTV devices that allow consumers to bypass cable TV and satellite TV providers all together and go directly to the Internet.  This has been a growing trend. SmartTV or IPTV will impact the entire entertainment business, not just the hardware.  What kind of content will be delivered and how will companies make a profit in this new business model?  The guest speaker at the SmartTV pavilion was actor Levar Burton of Star Trek fame.  He has a production company that is developing content for this new media.  You can see a video of Levar Burton speaking about SmartTV. Intel is offering a CE series of Atom, CE3100/4100 and soon to come CE4200.  These are designed for consumer electronics such as DTV and set top box.  Intel has been in the embedded control market for many years, though it is overshadowed by the computing business.  Embedded control is a highly fragmented market.  For a long time system designers have leveraged PC designs to utilize the x86 in such things as Point of Sale terminals, Automated Teller Machines, industrial control applications, and more.  Intel intends to build on its position in embedded control by adapting Atom.  This can offer low cost and low-power solutions in various applications.  A major program that was announced is Tunnel Creek.  This is a version of Atom for embedded control, E6xx family.  It is a SoC in which Intel has opened up its proprietary front side bus for 3rd party IO hubs.  These cab be either discrete designs for specific applications, proprietary ASIC, or FPGA.  Intel is offering a general purpose IO hub as well.  Tunnel Creek will be shipping later in 2010. Intel announced a special variant of the E6xx family.  Stellarton is a multichip module with an Atom E6xx and an Altera FPGA.  When queried, Intel stated that this solution is being offered in response to customer requests.  Stellarton will be coming out in 1H 2011. Semico Spin Computing certainly receives a lot of attention at IDF since it is the driving force for Intel.  But this year Intel gave more attention to other areas.  In addition to Atom and applications such as consumer electronics and embedded control, its efforts in software, in particular ApUps and Meego were also highlighted. Intel has dominated computing for nearly three decades.  As it stretches out into new markets, it will not be the dominant player and must carve out a place for itself in crowded fields.  In consumer electronics such as DTV, STB and IPTV, MIPS has been the dominant architecture.  Not only is Intel jumping into the fray, ARM is looking to flex its muscle in this space also.  On the portable side ARM has a dominant position.  Both Intel and MIPS want a piece of this action.  In embedded control there are numerous well entrenched architectures from companies such as Freescale, Renesas, NEC and others.  ARM has been growing quickly in the 32-bit MCU segment.  Intel wants to build on its position in this arena.  Going into 2011 it will be a very interesting competitive landscape. Tony Massimini Chief of Technology

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