Forget hot and heavy, Intel's new mantra is lean and mean

Intel has abandoned its Pentium IV roadmap to focus on low power, more efficient designs

In the face of increased competition, not just from arch-rival AMD but also from upstarts like Nvidia and ATi, Intel has been forced into a complete turnabout regarding micro- processors.

The about-turn message was hammered home by Asia Pacific sales and marketing group general manager John Antone. It’s time Taiwanese manufacturers moved away from hot CPUs, running at multi-Gigahertz clock speeds, to the more computationally and power efficient designs developed in Israel that debuted in Intel’s Centrino notebook range, he says.

That transformation is now complete, and Intel wants the Taiwanese OEMs that dominate world electronics production to get ready for the Merom (mobile), Woodcrest (server) and Conroe (desktop) CPUs, which are all scheduled for commercial release this year.

As spending on internet content by consumers will surpass spending on other media this year, the chip giants wants a slice of that action. Intel is hoping that the Woodcrest CPU, which promises 8% better performance with a third less power usage, will drive many of the mashed-up apps in high-density server developments. It’s “Everything over IP” for Intel from now on.

After taking a severe pasting in benchmarking duels with AMD over the past two years, Intel looks set to take back the gaming performance crown with the Conroe processor. But AMD is not resting on its laurels. While gaming is a comparatively small market, it is also highly prestigious, and Intel’s arch-enemy is plotting a processor refresh to rain on Intel’s Conroe parade soon.

Apple customers may be the first to enjoy Intel’s new CPU goodies, with the Woodcrest family of processors making it into Macintosh workstations as early as the third quarter. Woodcrest systems will be symmetric multi processing (SMP), with dual processors with up to four cores each. One such machine was demonstrated at IDF, running benchmarks under Windows XP 64-bit edition, showing eight active cores.

On the networking side, Intel is plugging the new 802.11n 100Mbit/s standard for wi-fi, as well as WiMax, which has been slow to take off despite the standard being in place for the past two years. The 100 trials and 25 commercial WiMax networks that Intel says are active pale in comparison to the 170,000 wi-fi hotspots that are in place around the world.

Although the platform isn’t likely to make it to New Zealand any time soon due to our poor broadband, Intel’s Viiv home entertainment technology has taken a big step forward. Using cooler processors, Intel has been able to come up with reference designs that are smaller and run much more quietly than the present generation of media centres. Intel has also worked on the software, and hopes its efforts will have reduced the present complexity of setting up internet-enabled media PCs. The HomePlug standard for networking over the electrical mains, as well as 802.11n, UWB and USB wireless connectivity are being touted by Intel as suitable for all home entertainment gear.

The many thousand developers and OEM participants in the audience were most interested in Intel’s mobility designs however. Intel is launching the Monahan mobile processor this year, and it’s already sampling at 1GHz speeds.

Saarinen travelled to the Intel Developer’s Forum in Taipei courtesy of Intel

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