IDF 2011: Intel talks Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks, shows working Haswell chip

Mooly Eden, head of Intel's PC division, aims to convince developers that Intel can reinvent the PC for a world of tablets and smartphones.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

The job for Mooly Eden, the head of Intel's PC division, with this morning's IDF keynote was clear: to convince developers that Intel can reinvent the PC for a world of tablets and smartphones. During his speech Eden revealed that Sandy Bridge is Intel's fastest-selling chip ever, provided new details on Ultrabooks including a Windows 8 preview and new Ivy Bridge-based systems due in 2012, and showed the first working system with a processor based on the next-generation Haswell architecture.

Today the industry sells more than 1 million PCs each day and there are 1.5 billion PCs in use worldwide, Eden said. The growth has been especially strong in developing markets, he noted. But Eden said that the PC must evolve to continue this growth, and he admitted that the transition won't be easy.

Throughout its 30-year history, the personal computer has proven highly adaptable noting in particular the introduction in 1995 of Pentium MMX and CD-ROM drives, which transformed PCs into multimedia devices, and in 2003, the Centrino platform that started a mobile computing revolution. Now Intel is planning another transformation of the PC with the Ultrabook, he said.

Eden announced that Intel has sold more than 75 million of its second-generation Core processors, known as Sandy Bridge, to date. In a side-by-side demo, he showed the performance of a Core i7 Sandy Bridge versus an older Core 2 Duo on several tasks including image editing, video editing and augmented reality.

Next up is Ivy Bridge, which has 1.48 billion 3D tri-gate transistors manufactured on a 22nm process. By comparison, Sandy Bridge processors have 1.16 billion planar transistors on 32nm. Though Ivy Bridge is technically a shrink, or a "tick" in Intel's tick-tock cadence, Eden said it actually more than a smaller, denser chip. "Ivy Bridge is not a tick," he said. "This tick is actually a tick-plus."

He listed some of the key features including backward-compatibility with Sandy Bridge systems; power management features such as Power Aware Interrupt Routing, which dynamically routes interrupts to cores that are already awake to save power rather than waking up cores that are asleep; and significantly improved 3D graphics and media performance. "You'll be surprised by the performance that Ivy Bridge is going to deliver," he said. In a demo, Eden showed an Ivy Bridge system playing 20 simultaneous HD streams and then playing a highly-detailed flight simulation game.

Eden recapped the basic features of the Ultrabook, a concept first introduced at Computex in June, including a thin and light design, good performance and responsiveness, long battery life, and solid security at an affordable price. He did not mention the previous price target of less than $1,000. He said that Intel designed Ivy Bridge to in such a way that even at low voltage for Ultrabooks, it can deliver better performance than the existing laptops. For example, he showed how the company boosted Turbo mode so a 17-watt low-voltage Ivy Bridge processor can reach the same frequencies as a standard 35-watt Sandy Bridge mobile processor.

Next he demonstrated a series of hardware and software technologies. The first ones included Rapid Start, which Intel claims can boot a system from hibernate in less than five seconds; and Smart Connect Technology, which lets the computer connect and receive updates while it is asleep. This was followed by some new security features. Noting that about 12,000 laptops are left behind airports every week, Todd Gebhart, an executive at McAfee, said the company will release a new application next year that will let users lock the data or completely wipe the data from an Ultrabook. Intel also demonstrated a couple of identity protection features that it claims prevent hackers from accessing your online accounts--even if they know your user ID and password--and make online transactions more secure. Later in the keynote, Intel demonstrated new display technology, eDP 1.3 with Panel Self-Refresh, that it claims can increase battery life by 45 minutes to one hour; and Thunderbolt I/O on a Windows laptop streaming 700Mbps of video. Eden announced that Acer and Asus will offer platforms with Thunderbolt next year.

Eden talked about Intel's $300 million Ultrabook investment fund and said that Intel had already started to drive down the price of these systems. Acer, Asus, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Samsung and Toshiba will all be selling Sandy Bridge-based Ultrabooks this year-some for under $1,000. He also gave a preview of several next-generation Ultrabooks from Compal, Foxconn, Inventec, Pegatron and Quanta with Ivy Bridge processors and 13.3-inch displays.

With Microsoft demonstrating Windows 8 at its own developer conference this week, Eden noted that Intel and Microsoft have been collaborating for 20 years, and said they've been working together on Windows 8 to reduce system power and take advantage of the new graphics capabilities. Brett Carpenter, from Microsoft's Windows ecosystem group, showed Windows 8 running on both a tablet (with a 32nm Intel Atom processor) and on an Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook. The Aspire S3 woke from sleep in about two seconds, and Carpenter showed the Metro-style user interface. He highlighted that the new UI is hardware-accelerated, has live tiles that can be programmed using existing tools and languages, and allows developers to create "chrome-less," or full-screen, apps.

Saving the best for last, Eden held up a Haswell processor on stage and showed a desktop system with a working Haswell chip. He said the goals for Haswell were a 20x reduction in power, all-day battery life and 10 days of connected standby time. Haswell will complete the Ultrabook transition, he promised.

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