IDF Preview: Ivy Bridge, Ultrabooks and tablets, Windows 8 and more

Next week is shaping up to be a blockbuster with the Intel Developer Forum and Microsoft's Build conference, plus DEMO and TechCrunch's Disrupt. I'll be at IDF in San Francisco where Intel will be talking Ivy Bridge, Ultrabooks and tablets, Windows 8 and more.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one in the tech world. Intel will be holding its annual developer conference in San Francisco. Meanwhile, several hundred miles down the road in Anaheim, Microsoft will be holding its Build conference where it will disclose more details on Windows 8. To top it off, software companies will be making their pitches at DEMO and TechCrunch's Disrupt SF, both in the Bay Area.

I'll be at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) where, as usual, CEO Paul Otellini will provide the big picture, Mooly Eden will give his pitch for reinventing the PC and CTO Justin Rattner will look into his crystal ball for the future of computing in keynotes. But there will also be more than 150 talks on topics ranging from Intel's upcoming microarchitecture, code-named Ivy Bridge, to Ultrabooks to tablets to Windows 8.

At the top of the list is Ivy Bridge, Intel's next microarchitecture and the industry's first processors manufactured using a 22nm process. Back in May Intel revealed that Ivy Bridge will use a new 3D tri-gate transistor structure and demonstrated working chips. The new design allows Intel to cram more transistors onto a chip, continuing Moore's Law, while increasing transistor performance and reducing power. Ivy Bridge processors are already in production in Intel's development fabs in Oregon and will be available in laptops, desktops and servers next year.

With Ivy Bridge right around the corner, I'm hoping to hear more about it next week and there are several sessions devoted to the new microarchitecture. Intel Fellow Mark Bohr will give an overview of the 22nm tri-gate technology while Intel engineers will talk about how the technology will be used "to deliver new levels of processor performance, power conservation and architectural feature extensions." Other talks will focus on specific features such as HD videoconferencing using Intel's Quick Sync video encoding and Media SDK 3.0 and cryptography using the new processor-based random number generator, code-named Bull Mountain.

Chips that use less power will be the key to Intel's efforts to reinvent the PC for a world in which users are spending more time with tablets and smartphones. Earlier this year Intel introduced the Ultrabook concept, and at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin last week, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba all announced their opening salvos in this category. These laptops have 11- to 13-inch displays, are very thin and lightweight, and use low-voltage second-generation Core processors (Sandy Bridge) and solid-state drives (SSDs). They should also cost less than $1,000, though some of the first ones may cost a bit more.

Intel has previously said that Ultrabooks could account for 40 percent of all laptops sold to consumers next year, and it has put a lot of time and money behind making them happen, so it's no surprise they will be a big theme next week with numerous sessions on topics such as the different designs and enhanced power management to extend battery life. Intel and LG Display will also hold a joint talk on next-generation displays for Ultrabooks that have Embedded DisplayPort (eDP) and Panel Self-Refresh technologies to save power. I also expect to hear a lot more about how Ultrabooks will evolve to be more like tablets with instant-on, longer battery life, multi-touch displays and Windows 8. This week Intel CFO Stacy Smith told analysts at an investor conference that future generations of Ultrabooks would be more like convertible tablets.

Of course Intel also wants to compete head-to-head with the many companies designing chips using the ARM architecture for tablets and smartphones. Many people will want to hear whether Intel is making progress with its Atom SOCs. Intel will have several sessions on tablets including talks on designing Android tablets based on the Medfield SOC processor, and developing new apps and porting existing Android apps for the x86 architecture. Intel engineers will also give an update on the Atom roadmap including the next-generation 32nm Atom platform code-named Cedar Trail-M. Intel has a long way to go in tablets, but Atom is used in many other places and there will be sessions on using the low-power platform in netbooks, classmate PCs, desktops, servers (in a joint talk with Dell and Sea Micro) and embedded applications. It's worth noting that the word "smartphone" barely appears in the agenda, and is only mentioned in passing, though there are a couple of sessions on Intel's MeeGo operating system.

Finally I'm looking forward to hearing more about Windows 8. Lately Microsoft has started posting a lot more details on features of Windows 8 and next week's Build conference will no doubt generate a lot of headlines too. At IDF, Intel engineers and Microsoft program managers are promising a "glimpse" into Windows 8 and what the two companies doing to enable a new computing experience. One of the big changes in Windows 8 is that it will run not only on x86 processors from Intel and AMD, but also on ARM-based chips from Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Rumors are swirling that Samsung will demonstrate a tablet running Nvidia's Kal-El quad-core processor and Windows 8 at Build. So I'll be interested to see how Intel positions x86 platforms against this coming wave of new Windows 8 devices. I'm also hoping to get a better idea of how the Metro-style user interface will co-exist with the conventional Windows interface on laptops and tablets.

In short, it should be a very interesting week. I'll be covering all of it here so check back for lots more from IDF.

Editorial standards