Intel's Barrett unveils a fishy new strategy

From trout to routers at the Intel Developer Forum...

From trout to routers at the Intel Developer Forum...

Intel CEO Craig Barret pulled off an unusual visual gag at the start of the company's Developer Forum this week. He went all the way to Siberia on a week-long fly fishing trip earlier in the year just so CTO Pat Gelsinger could flash up a slide of him proudly brandishing a freshly caught trout yesterday and ask the Forum to welcome 'Dr Fish and Chips'. Perhaps it's good news that Intel is diversifying, as the profits generated by the bread-and-butter business of making Pentium chips for desktops are shrinking. The audience at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco was treated to some impressive footage of the company's new 300mm wafer fab in Oregon, which will cut the cost of producing 0.13 micron processors by 30 per cent. But it's no secret that the PC market in Europe and the US is stagnating, which contributed to a 77 per cent drop in the company's profits last quarter. For that reason, PCs have been strangely absent from the show, at the expense of servers and communications kit. Self-confessed "server dude" Mike Fister followed up Barrett's impressive speech with an awesomely unspectacular demonstration of the soon-to-be released McKinley server going through its paces. One demo actually didn't work. The other was simply incomprehensible. It's tough to make a big black box seem exciting, but we're confident that McKinley will be wonderful. Communications technologies such as Gigabit Ethernet, 10GHz Ethernet and 802.11 wireless LAN technologies feature prominently in the show, if not the keynote, as are processors for embedded applications from network routers to handheld computers. The global angle is growing in importance, too. Barrett made a point of welcoming delegates from Nigeria, Slovenia and Vietnam, which have never been represented at the IDF before. It's nice to see the computer industry taking a truly international view, but it's nothing more than good sense. Last quarter Asia-Pacific accounted for more sales than the US for the first time. One graph showed the US, with 611 PCs per thousand of population. It was intended to demonstrate the power of computers to drive economic productivity - but does it in fact show that the US PC market totally saturated? It was interesting that Intel seemed to need to justify the necessity for ever-faster chips. Last quarter, sales of the top-end Pentium 4 chips were one of the few bright spots on the balance sheet, exceeding expectations. One demo was designed to answer the question: "What on earth do we need a 3GHz desktop for?" It showed three high-definition video streams running over a 100Mbps broadband link, rendered onto the surfaces of a cube that bounced around the screen. It looked like the most expensive screen saver ever. Or could there be a significant message hidden in the choice of videos - Lord of the Rings, ice hockey and a computer simulation of Craig Barrett snowboarding? Barrett wasn't telling. Perhaps we should just conclude that there's no point buying a 3GHz machine until BT rolls out 100Mbps broadband links. In that case the Slovakians will have to buy an awful lot of wireless LAN kit to make up the numbers. Otherwise Barrett will have a lot more time to go fishing... We'll have more from the Intel conference during the week