Rupert Goodwins' IDF Diary

Tuesday 7/3/2006And so we hit the full-on IDF. Not so many IDFs ago, all the Intel people wore a standard uniform of khaki trousers (or "Cacky Pants" as they insist on calling them) and open-necked blue shirts.

Tuesday 7/3/2006

And so we hit the full-on IDF.

Not so many IDFs ago, all the Intel people wore a standard uniform of khaki trousers (or "Cacky Pants" as they insist on calling them) and open-necked blue shirts. Ties are as out of place in IDF as bikinis in Riyadh. Of late, though, different tiers of Intel bod come in different colours — black for the keynote stagehands, shades of blue and green for the execs. And this time, the Intel Fellows — distinguished people with a history of innovation — are marked out by their maroon shirts. At least, Intel calls it maroon: it is, of course, red. All Star Trek fans know what that means — and indeed, the red shirt count dropped dramatically as IDF progressed.

This time, instead of spreading the keynotes out across all three days, Intel decided to have all the keynotes on the first day and then have Mega-Briefings and Technology Insights. I never quite worked out what the difference was between all these; it seemed a way to say the same thing four times in four slightly different ways.

But all that was to come. The keynotes today kicked off with a series of feel-good slides showing happy bright young people interacting with gizmos, leaping in the air and generally having an excellent tech-centred lifestyle.

Unfortunately, whoever put the series together hadn't spotted that the picture of a man in a bunny suit holding the hand of a seven year old Asian girl was, to people brought up on science fiction dystopias and scary music videos, utterly terrifying. In the noisy dark of the auditorium, what-if stories buzzed around my head: was she some robot child born of laboratory experiments? Was she in the Zone, a test subject bombarded by pathogens in a devastated environment vacated by normal humans? Or had she taken over the bunnyman by telepathy, telling him to get ready to inveigle himself into Fab 28 to do her evil, twisted desires?

My musings were cut short by Justin Rattner, CTO, the first in a long succession of top Intel beings and the first to produce a long string of codenames. Merom, Conroe, Woodcrest. Silverton. Quad-core in 2007. "But one word has not passed my lips" he said. Itanium? I thought. "Platforms" he said. Oh well.

Then came Mr IDF himself, Pat Gelsinger. He talked of the telecoms market. He talked of enterprise. He talked of still more code names: of Thermopolis, of Bensley, of Baxter Creek. He talked of revolutions to come — "closer than you think". He repeated that phrase, savouring its excitement.

But we did not listen. We were staring. He had grown a beard.

I've said it before: I admire Intel because it is rigorously uncaring about what its executives do with the hair on their heads. Executives can go from Fozzy Bear to Kojak and back via Meatloaf, and nobody minds. But facial hair has a bad history, especially with enterprise responsibility. Mike Fister got given the Itanium to look after, he grew a true bandito moustache, he fled for the hills. Now Pat's been given the Itanium to look after — and look what's happened.

It's a very fine beard. With a cocked green hat and lime tights, he'd be Errol Flynn in the Adventures of Robin Hood. But it was a beard — and wherever he'd got "Closer than you think" from, it clearly wasn't a close study of Gillette adverts.

With an effort, we pull ourselves back to reality — only to be rudely shoved back into Gelsinger's very own fantasy world. One of the things he has to do is flog the ATCA telecommunications rack standard: it's good money, but it's dull. Even by geek standards.

So we get an ATCA fashion show. "Norm's ready for anything with this dual-core server" said Gelsinger as swanky music lithely catwalked its way into the keynote. Norm sashayed onto the stage, an engineer in black trying to be coquettish with a printed circuit board. "The Blade For You!" said Gelsigner. "Check out Randy!" Another engineer in black, hips swivelling, another circuit. This went on for eight engineers — all shapes, all sizes, one women, seven blokes, three beards (not counting the überbeard) — while the audience roared.

It was downhill from there, really. The sexiest thing on the stage (apart from Norm, of course) was the SS4000-E, a cute little black storage number containing up to 2TB for the SME "or the advanced home user". Bob Muglia of Microsoft comes on. Microsoft is "very excited by Itanium", but "superexcited" by quadcore and "very deeply passionate" about virtualisation. And here's a video of various big computer users saying how much they love Itanium, including a Frenchman in a server room SHOUTING TO BE HEARD OVER THE FANS.

Then there's the touching moment when Gelsinger can finally talk about processor architecture — and really comes alive. Conroe, the first Core architecture desktop chip, is due in Q3 and is "Way cool! This is the biggest performance leap since out of order execution — and that was my chip! I hate being beat!" For the first time, you can hear the exclamation marks.

Then we have a shower of facts: quad-core will be 45nm. Cloverton will have a 1333MHz front side bus. 3× performance increase in performance-per-watt over four generations of mobile processors.

Sean Maloney comes on, followed by a small silver electric scooter with mobile WiMAX — well, it would be mobile if Intel's temporary radio licence for the transmitter covered more than the building. Some problem with spectrum allocation, perhaps? But no — here's a video to prove us cynics wrong. 2005 was the Year WiMax Got Real! Angola! Australia! Brazil!

Then Don Macdonald of the Digital Home Group turns up. He demonstrates that while a cup of Starbucks coffee is hotter than a DVD player it is quieter than a set top box. To be honest he lost me a bit here, but he has the figures to prove it — 77.8°C and 26.6dBA. He demonstrates that Intel has a zero-button remote control (sssh, it's really a microphone) that you can speak into. Command your Viiv PC manfully to "Record Family Guy" and there's a one in four chance it will Record Family Guy instead of going "Beep-bop?" in a faintly puzzled cadence. He demonstrated a concept platform called Salt Creek — paddle not provided.

And then we got to go back to the hotel