Future portables go much faster all day, says Intel

IDF: Beefier batteries and multi-core chips aim to make Intel's future mobiles more like desktops
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor
Intel predicted major innovations in mobile technology at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Wednesday.

In a keynote speech and subsequent briefings, Anand Chandrasekher, general manager of Intel's mobile platforms group, revealed the company's roadmap for the next generation of the Centrino brand. Other executives covered new chip, battery and display developments. It should all add up to eight hours of desktop performance in lightweight portables by the end of the decade, they said.

"The notebook is the one device that transcends office and home environments," said Chandrasekher. "End users want wireless capability, great battery life, high performance and a sleek form factor. These do not go hand in hand, and this is where the engineering challenge comes."

The next notebook platform, code-named Sonoma, will include the latest Pentium M processor, the Alviso support chip -- due early next year -- and Intel's 802.11a/b/g wireless adaptor. "We are confident that 802.11a/b/g will become a standard enterprise recommendation," said Mooly Eden, director of marketing of mobile platforms. "It makes the client future-proof." He added that Intel has recently introduced 802.11a testing to its Wireless Verification Program, designed to ensure ease of use when Centrino clients work with hots pots and wireless gateways. "When I started using wireless networking, it was only user-friendly in that you needed a lot of friends to be able to use it," said Eden. "Now, we've worked with people like Linksys to reduce the number of configuration steps to set up their access points from 20 to three."

Intel also demonstrated the integrated graphics on Alviso running at 38 frames per second (fps) on a videogame, compared to 28fps on the current chipset. "Adoption of integrated graphics can only go up," said Eden, "as they're more than good enough for enterprise use and fine for most consumer needs. The only areas we see as needing separate graphics chips are serious gaming and workstation tasks." Power consumption is also reduced by circuits that detect when the display is showing dark images and dimming the backlight instead.

The company also revealed some details of its first dual-core mobile processor, codenamed Yonah. Built using 65nm technology, the chip will have a mobile optimised micro-architecture, according to Eden. "Read between the lines. This is not a power-reduced desktop chip." he said. Power management on such a system was very involved but two cores were a much more efficient way of getting more performance than doubling the clock speed of an existing chip, he claimed. "Two cores at 2GHz can give you 1.6 to 1.8 times the performance of one core, but a core at 4GHz will be a fraction of that improvement," he said. "We can do this within the power envelope people expect for a portable system."

Yonah will be a key component of a new Centrino platform, code-named Napa, which will also include a support chip with integrated graphics called Calistoga, the ICH7-M IO controller with up to six PCI Express ports and enhanced power management, and a mini-card wireless device named Golan. This will include new security features from Cisco. "Napa will have most of the experience of a desktop," said Eden. "It will be as revolutionary as the original Centrino."

Intel is supporting new battery technologies through investment and technical involvement. "Lithium-ion has done us well for the 90s," said Eden, "but battery improvements have been like teenagers and sex -- everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it."

Although the company continues to watch fuel cells and other exotic options, it is most excited by developments in two existing chemistries -- advanced lithium polymer from Japanese company Pionics, and zinc-alkaline from Zinc Matrix Power. "Both have the potential to double battery capacities without significant increases in size or weight," said Mike Trainor, chief mobile technology evangelist in the mobile platforms group. He added that although samples of the technologies were running now and some may become commercially available by 2006, the full potential of the new batteries was unlikely to be realised before 2010.

Other desktop developments are also not expected soon. "We can implement 64-bit instructions when we want," said Eden, "but when we choose to do depends on application demand." He said that this was unlikely to be before Longhorn, in the second half of 2006.

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