Intel Fine-Tunes Its Road Map

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 04-23-2007
Intel is preparing to take the next big leap with its microarchitecture.

At the Intel Developer Forum, which kicked off in Beijing April 17, the world's largest chip maker used the conference for more than reminding customers that its 45-nanometer processor family—"Penryn"—will launch later this year and that its new mobile platform—"Santa Rosa"—is due in May.

Intel executives also wanted customers to get the message that it will keep pushing innovations in its microarchitecture throughout the year.

Indeed, Intel seemed to be readying its processor road map to move beyond multicore x86 architecture with a heavy reliance on clock speed to focusing on other aspects of the design. This includes reducing power consumption to increase performance with features such as its SOC (System on-a-Chip) technology, which combines Intel Architecture processor cores on the same piece of silicon as the memory and I/O.

Read more here about Intel taking back market share from AMD.

Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., also talked up its long-rumored "Larrabee" technology, which adds transistors to allow for software acceleration that will support what company executives call trillions of calculations per second. This, officials said, will give the company a stronger foothold in very sophisticated areas, such as scientific calculations.

Company executives also spent the show's second day detailing its mobile offering, including the launch of the Santa Rosa platform, slated for early May, as well as laying out plans to use 45-nm processors with the platform early in 2008. The company plans on revamping the platform again later that year with the project code-named Montevina, which will add Wi-Fi and WiMax support. Intel also offered a look at its "McCaslin" platform for ultramobile PCs.

Several analysts said that although Intel had started to shift its road map in this way for some time, at IDF was the first time that company engineers offered a much more complete picture of how the road map will play out during the next two years.

"Intel had a new strategy last year that they started called 'tick-tock,'" said Steven Kleynhans, an analyst with Gartner, referring to the Intel strategy of delivering new processors with either enhanced or new microarchitecture every year.

"At first, it looked liked a marketing term, and it could be blown off as fluff," Kleynhans said. "Now, there really looks like there is some meat behind its strategy. There's a lot of follow-through on this strategy. The show was a lot about Intel showing it could keep its road map fresh and quickly respond to the marketplace."

In years past, Kleynhans said, when Intel appeared less nimble and reluctant to change and innovate, Advanced Micro Devices swept in and took market share. Now, with issues such as mobility, Intel is not only going where the market is but also is trying to create new markets for its processors.

"Mobile is where the market is growing," Kleynhans said. "There's a lot more interesting things you can do with the technology when you make it mobile."

In many ways, Intel is a far different company from what it was just a few years ago. It has moved past some of the mistakes it had made with other architectures—the Pentium 4 architecture, for example—that allowed AMD to thrive.

In a statement leading up to the conference, Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, said the company is looking to develop multiple innovations that will complement changes in technology and how people use the Internet, from commercial businesses to social networking to PC and television entertainment.

Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, said that, to some extent, Intel is even starting to move away from its rivalry with AMD and simply concentrate on pushing its innovations in a timely fashion as a way to drive the market.

"All of this is not necessarily aimed at AMD at this point," McCarron said. "Intel has kind of learned its lesson of moving too slow, holding onto architecture too long and not innovating." It's not to say everything is going Intel's way.

The price war between the two chip makers has taken its toll on Intel as well, although its financial outlook for the first quarter, released the same day the IDF started, showed some signs of improvement.

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