Trekkies and Teamsters saw in the latest Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, California earlier this month. The showcase for Intel's future strategy was only slightly marred by the Teamster Union protesting outside about the use of non-local labour.
Pretty soon it was time to set phasers to 'stun' as a rotund and clearly bemused Captain James Tiberius Kirk, aka William Shatner, made a guest appearance on stage, drafted in to help Intel's very own alien, chief technology officer Pat Gelsinger, predict the future.
Apart from Gelsinger's gimmicky entrance on a motorised scooter, wearing enough technology to make a Borg beam with pride, Intel had lots to show off.
The company had plenty to say about the future of chip development and how it plans to get there. There were some strong product announcements and enough roadmap information to keep the components vendors on the edge of their seats.
Amid the welter of information being dumped on the hapless delegates, the star items were still pretty easy to find. Mobile and wireless technologies stole much of the limelight and their prominence pointed the way to where Intel sees the industry going.
There were desktop announcements and some nice demos, but the overall message coming out of the Forum was 'mobile good, desktop dodgy'.
Chip and comms convergence
Most of the initial material concerns the convergence of processor and communications technology. Mobile technology has done a lot better than desktops in weathering the global downturn.
Intel has been quick to point out that this is not a temporary glitch but a shift towards mobile solutions being the platform for business and life.
Spearheading the company's charge into the mobile unknown is Banias, its first chip designed from the ground up for mobile platforms.
There has been a lot of speculation about the final shape of Banias, and Intel executives finally put some flesh on the bones.
Until last week, you could sum it up in a sentence: Banias will offer higher performance than current mobile processors, use a lot less power, run for longer and have integrated wireless functionality.
Intel has now revealed that Banias will boast 77 million transistors and that about one-third of those will be cache. The first version of the processor, due to be released in the first half of next year, will come with 1MB of on-board cache for greater data bandwidth.
Systems using the new chip will be 67 per cent lighter and 43 per cent slimmer than systems using the Mobile Pentium 4 processor today, according to Anand Chandrasekher, general manager of Intel's mobile platforms group.
In a demo using a Banias-powered system, Chandrasekher rendered some graphical content, claiming the chip was using just 7W to do the job.
In sleep mode, Banias will use less than 1W. However, battery life is expected to top out at 4.5 hours for the standard Banias processor.
"We want to achieve the goal of eight hours of battery life in a reliable and consistent manner," Chandrasekher said.
The Banias chip will also use micro operations fusion to process different instructions together while the chip's system bus will turn on only the system components needed to process data.
Wireless is a core element of the chip, which will have integrated 802.11a/b wireless standards interoperability when they arrive, and support for other wireless standards later on. Intel's desktop processors are also in for a wireless overhaul but there was not much detail available about this.
The arrival of Banias was originally expected to overlap with Intel's current and future range of Mobile Pentium 4 processors, but the vendor has now cleared the way for separate mobile processor maps.
Last year saw the arrival and success of super-notebooks: heavy, power-hungry models that boasted very fast desktop processors but lower price tags than models using mobile processors.
Don MacDonald, Intel's director of mobile platforms marketing, said that having two distinct mobile offerings would be more "flexible", offering an alternative for customers that "do not want to pay for the battery life".
This week, Intel is expected to push notebook performance again with the release of a 2.2GHz, Pentium 4-M chip.
Intel has also been very active on the desktop front recently, outgunning rival AMD with early launches of chips boasting clock speeds in excess of 2.8GHz.
Showing off a little at the Forum, Paul Otellini, Intel's chief operating officer, conceded that speed isn't everything, but then demonstrated a system using a prototype Pentium 4 running at 4.1GHz, which then clocked in at 4.7GHz.
Intel focused heavily on its hyper threading technology, which allows processors to handle multiple instructions simultaneously.
Although so far the technology is used only in Intel's server processors, the company announced that it will feature in its 3GHz Pentium 4 desktop processor, due before the end of the year.
Hyper threading already offers a 30 per cent boost in servers and workstations and Otellini showed that desktop processors using it will offer a boost of 25 per cent or more.
For future chips, Intel went into detail on some of nanotechnology (components measuring less than 100 nanometres, or one billionth of a metre) it is investigating. The company also confirmed its work on the Tri-Gate transistor, a multigate transistor that could greatly boost the performance of a processor.
Intel claimed it will usher in the nanotechnology era next year with the release of 90-nanometre chips, using strained silicon for increased performance.
The vendor is also working with Harvard and other universities on experimental technologies that include carbon nanotubes, new Extreme Ultra-Violet lithography and silicon nanowires.
Future-speak aside, Intel also announced the launch of Xeon processors and released the final AGP 3.0 specification for doubling graphics bandwidth to 2.1Gbps on high-end systems.
Meanwhile, AMD reportedly postponed its long-awaited 64bit desktop chip, Clawhammer, by three months.
For Intel, its week-long technology jamboree could not have ended on a better note.
- Intel previewed a lot of new technology at its Developer Forum, with mobile and wireless technology being key areas.
- The vendor said Banias, its first purpose-built mobile processor, should be available in the first half of next year.
- Intel claims hyper threading technology can boot desktops by up to 25 per cent.
- It is also working on nanotechnology, although results may be some way off.
- Rival AMD said it was delaying the launch of its new 64-bit processor.
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