Intel's ultrabook push puts people first

Intel has turned its development process on its head to create chips for ultrabooks, focusing on what software the user wants to use first and microprocessor design later
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

For its ultrabook push, Intel has turned its chip development formula on its head and is paying more attention to what people want to do on the device.

Mooly Eden

Intel's Mooly Eden holds up the Haswell chip, which is due to underpin ultrabooks and go into production in 2013. Photo credit: Jack Clark

The shift means that user experience now comes before microprocessor design in development for ultrabooks, Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's PC client group, said on Wednesday in a keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

"For us in Intel the god, the head of the operation, were the microprocessor designers," Eden said. "On top of the microprocessor we put operating systems and then [we threw] it into the market for the developer to write applications."

With ultrabooks, Intel has turned the formula on its head and begun the design process by looking at "what the user wants", he said. "Then we ask ourselves what the software is that would be required to fulfil it and then we design the microprocessor."

This approach to developing technologies for consumers, rather than businesses, is part of a wave of consumerisation sweeping through the industry: VMware is developing technologies that tie applications to users, rather than devices, while IBM sees itself less as a hardware company and more as a solutions business — one that crafts technologies around customers, rather than the other way round.

"All of those ethnographers and social anthropologists doing the [Intel] research have had a direct impact — it really is changing the company," Justin Rattner, the director of Intel Labs, said in a briefing to journalists.

At this point, there isn't a design team at Intel that isn't rethinking their design practice to be much more experience driven.
– Justin Rattner, Intel Labs

"At this point, there isn't a design team at Intel that isn't rethinking their design practice to be much more experience driven," he added.

To entice consumers, Intel has to treat user experience with as great a priority as bettering the feeds and speeds of its chips, Eden told ZDNet UK.

"IT managers buy from the brain, consumers from the heart," Eden said. Consumers need to "love the [Intel] solution".

Besides devoting $300m (£190m) to pushing the development of ultrabooks and the component ecosystem that supports them, Eden said Intel's upcoming Ivy Bridge and Haswell processors have been developed to meet the low-power needs of the platform as well.

Ivy Bridge

Power efficiency has become key, he said, before detailing a new power conservation function that will appear in Ivy Bridge.

"In Ivy Bridge we can dynamically route interrupts based on policies, so if you want to save power, you can actually route it to the core that is awake," Eden said.

He explained that a USB interface will make calls to the processor up to 3,000 times a second but will typically go to the same core every time. If the core is idle, being interrupted causes it to turn on and consume power. With the Ivy Bridge technology, interrupts can be routed to cores that are already active, saving power.

Ivy Bridge will also support another power-saving feature — low-powered DDR3 RAM — that is not supported on its predecessor, Sandy Bridge. It will have a greater graphical capability than Sandy Bridge, to create a truly "balanced" processor, he said.

Ivy Bridge is due to make an appearance in the first half of 2012. Eden showed six pre-production ultrabooks from Compaq, Pegatron, Foxconn, Quanta and Inventec that have the chip inside them.

Haswell will complete the revolution

After Ivy Bridge comes Haswell, which Eden said will "complete the ultrabook transformation". Haswell will be introduced in 2013 on a 22nm tri-gate process and should move to 14nm the following year. 

"[With Haswell] we're going to put the personal into 'PC' and the 'C' will stand for creativity and consumption," Eden said. He then showed a desktop computer which, he said, was running off a Haswell CPU. Eden gave no further details on the chip.

Haswell will be capable of "all-day" battery life and up to 10 hours of standby mode, Intel's chief executive Paul Otellini said on Tuesday.

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