Intel shows Banias, desktop hyper-threading at IDF

Several product announcements dominated the first day of the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose Monday, as Intel Corp. demonstrated its new Banias mobile processors, announced that its desktop processors will soon feature its hyper-threading technology, and showed examples of servers powered by Madison, an upcoming server chip.

The company also announced a new security initiative called LaGrande, which aims to secure the physical data interconnects inside a PC using future generations of Intel chips.

The overriding theme of the opening remarks was the trend towards convergence between computing and communications devices, and the role microprocessors can play in enabling new mobile designs. While desktop PC sales will continue to grow in emerging markets like India and China due to their low cost, in more saturated markets like the U.S. mobile holds the key for future growth, said Paul Otellini, president and chief operating officer of Intel.

Intel wants to create processors that allow developers to write applications for Intel desktops and then port them to notebooks or personal digital assistants (PDAs) without having to rewrite significant amounts of code, he said.

“Our ultimate goal is to…bring computing to everyone, anytime, anyplace in the world,” Otellini said.

Two users, one with a Banias notebook and one without, demonstrated some of the capabilities of the processor. Banias is a processor designed specifically for notebooks by Intel, which sought to create an entire chip subsystem tailored to mobile users.

Improved power management features, integrated wireless technologies such as 802.11a and 802.11b and support for media technologies that should allow a user to stream live television over a Banias-equipped notebook were offered as examples of how Banias could benefit both business and home users.

Also Monday, Intel said it will use its performance boosting hyper-threading technology in desktop processors, starting with a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor due out in the fourth quarter. Hyper-threading allows software written with multiple threads to run those threads on one processor simultaneously, approximating dual-processor performance. It’s not quite that fast, however, since a single processor has only one cache and one connection to the rest of the computer.

Hyper-threading will allow for a 25 per cent increase in performance for both consumer and business applications, according to Intel. Two systems, one using a 3.06GHz hyper-threading chip and one a regular 3.06GHz chip, were demonstrated running popular applications. The demonstration appeared to show improvements running macros in Microsoft Excel, scanning for viruses and playing digital video.

The LaGrande initiative will coexist with existing security initiatives such as Microsoft Corp.’s Palladium to create a more secure computing environment, Otellini said. It will secure the physical pathways that transport data on a computer’s motherboard, and will be available for both servers and desktops. The technology will take until at least next year to come to market, however, probably with the next generation of Intel’s desktop Pentium processors.

Intel’s third generation server processor, code-named Madison, was also discussed by Otellini. Madison is scheduled to be released next year to supplement sales of Itanium 2, Intel’s current 64-bit server chip. Demonstrations of the chip took place on the convention center floor, with products from server makers NEC Corp. and Unisys Corp. upgraded to the Madison chip while running, a practice known as “hot-swapping.”

Intel also reiterated its commitment to increasing the raw clock speed of its chips, showing attendees an experiment in which a Pentium 4 chip was pushed to 4.7GHz before crashing the system.

In a question and answer session with reporters after his speech, however, Otellini acknowledged that clock speed is only one measure of chip performance. Intel traditionally has marketed its chips by their clock speeds, but Banias is widely expected to run at slower clock speeds than existing mobile Pentium 4 processors while still providing better performance.

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