SPRING IDF: Intel to keep users mobile in 2006 and beyond

Fresh off the launch of its Sonoma platform in January, Intel Corp. is pushing ahead with new mobile technologies designed to improve the performance and manageability of notebook PCs, executives said Wednesday.

About one-third of all transistors produced today at Intel are dedicated to mobile devices, said Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Mobility Group, during a keynote address. Over time, that percentage will grow in concert with the growing demand for mobile computing technology in notebooks, personal digital assistants, and smart phones, he said.

Many of those transistors will be targeted for Yonah, the dual-core version of Intel Corp.’s Pentium M processor. Yonah will dramatically boost the performance of notebooks with the company’s Centrino mobile technology, but merely hold the line on battery life, said Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of the Mobile Platforms Group, part of Maloney’s Intel Mobility Group.

Yonah is a bit more integrated than some of the other dual-core designs, for desktops and servers, that were revealed on Tuesday, Eden said in a presentation after Maloney’s keynote. Because notebook users won’t stand for a step backward in battery life, the two Pentium M cores within Yonah had to be very closely synchronized for power consumption and performance, he said.

Even with those enhancements, Intel was unable to improve the battery life of notebooks based on Yonah compared with notebooks using the Sonoma platform of the Dothan processor and Alviso chipset, Eden said. Separate processing engines require a significant increase in power, and Intel is extremely proud of the fact that it was able to hold the line on power consumption as compared to single-core versions of the Pentium M, he said.

Concerns about the slow pace of improvement in battery life should be assuaged by the performance of the new chip. “This should be one hell of a gaming machine,” Eden said. He declined to directly compare Yonah’s performance to that of Intel’s Pentium 4 desktop processor or Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Mobile Athlon 64 chip, but said he was confident that Intel had developed a competitive product.

Using two cores allows the processor to quickly run multithreaded applications or run two single-threaded applications simultaneously, Eden said. This performance will be enhanced with Intel Virtualization Technology (VT) and Intel Active Management Technology (AMT), two enhancements that allow IT managers to upload software updates or bug fixes to notebooks that are offline.

VT and AMT will be available with Yonah as part of the Napa platform in early 2006, Eden said. Napa also includes the Calistoga chipset, which improves integrated graphics performance, and the Golan wireless chip, which reduces power drain experienced by users connected to wireless networks, he said.

The company showed off a number of concept notebooks using Napa. One model designed for corporate notebook users comes with technology that will allow personal digital assistant or smart phone users to synchronize data between the handset and the notebook with the push of a single button, said Michael Trainor, chief technology evangelist at Intel.

Another consumer-oriented notebook concept was designed for users to grasp it by its sides with two hands and activate DVD software, play games, or perform other simple multimedia functions, Trainor said. This notebook also features a detachable DVD drive that connects to the back of the unit through a USB (universal serial bus) connection, but users could also add an extra battery or TV tuner through this connection, he said.

While notebooks are Intel’s primary target for mobile products, the company is also working on processors for mobile phones, flash memory chips, and the WiMax broadband wireless technology.

Intel’s initial mobile phone processors have not been successful, but Maloney believes that its second attempt at the market will be more fruitful. The Hermon chip consists of an applications processor, communications chip for 3G networks, and flash memory integrated onto a single die. For the first time, Maloney displayed a Hermon smart phone from contract manufacturer Asustek Computer Inc. that is expected to be available later this year from other manufacturers. An Intel spokesman declined to provide more details on what phone manufacturer might be interested in the phone, or where in the world it would become available.

Maloney briefly talked about some upcoming flash memory products, including a multilevel cell chip based on the 90 nanometer (nm) processing technology, a new category of embedded flash memory for devices other than mobile phones, and future 65nm flash memory chips.

WiMax is Intel’s vision for technology that would enable a metropolitan-area wireless IP (Internet Protocol) network. Maloney acknowledged that Intel has a long way to go before Wimax becomes a reality, but he cited the growing numbers of companies joining the WiMax Forum as evidence that momentum is building behind WiMax similarly to how the industry embraced Wi-Fi.

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