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Intel to show off faster, smaller mobile chips

New laptop and netbook chips on show at IDF

Intel will show off key products this week that the chip maker hopes will expand its presence in the mobile space, while driving it into new markets.

The company will shed more light on its next generation of smaller and faster mobile chips at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. The event starts on Tuesday and runs until Thursday. The new chips will be in laptops, netbooks and even smartphones and ultramobile devices starting next year.

Intel is making rapid progress in creating smaller, more integrated chips to speed up performance while drawing less power, said Steve Smith, vice president and general manager of Intel's digital enterprise group operations. The progress is in line with Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. However, doubts have surfaced about its relevance as chips shrink at faster rates than in the past.

"Moore's Law is alive and well," Smith said. "One of the benefits we have of Moore's Law and scaling is to bring Intel architecture to smaller and smaller devices, including what I'd call mobile internet devices, handhelds, tablets and all the way into the future of cellphone-type devices," Smith said.

Intel earlier this year announced it would invest $7 billion over the next two years to revamp manufacturing plants. Intel at the time said it wanted to add efficiencies to the production process and create smaller and more integrated chips at lower costs. The revamp would help create tinier chips to go into, for instance, smartphones, set-top boxes and TVs, which could add revenue, CEO Paul Otellini said at the time.

Intel is on track to start mass production of chips using the latest 32-nanometre process in the fourth quarter this year, an upgrade from the existing 45-nm process used to make chips like Core processors today. Intel is showcasing the levels of integration achieved by shrinking the chips, and the performance and power benefits realized from the advanced manufacturing process.

"Over time we've integrated different system functions into what we now expect on a processor," Smith said. For example, the floating point, cache and memory were originally separate system units that were ultimately integrated into the processor. Some new chips integrate functions like graphics inside the processor, Smith said.

Intel will share further details on the latest laptop chips code-named Arrandale, which are based on the Westmere architecture. Arrandale is a two-chip package with an integrated graphics processor, which could help improve graphics performance and use less power. The new chips allow each core to run two threads simultaneously so more tasks can be run at the same time compared to predecessors. The initial chips will come in dual-core configurations with 4MB of cache.

Westmere is a process shrink of the existing Nehalem microarchitecture. Nehalem forms the basis of existing Core i5, Core i7 and Xeon 5500 server chips, which are manufactured using the 45-nm process.

The chip maker will also detail future chips based on its Atom architecture for netbooks and mobile devices. Intel will show off systems based on the upcoming netbook platform called Pine Trail, which will include Atom chips with integrated graphics processors. Intel will also talk about Moorestown, a chip platform targeted at devices like mobile internet devices and smartphones. Moorestown includes a processor code-named Lincroft, which includes a 3D graphics accelerator, integrated memory controller and other components on a single chip.

Intel will also provide an update on the Larrabee chip, which has been characterised as a graphics processor with many x86 cores for graphics and high-performance parallel processing. There's been a lot of mystery and excitement surrounding Larrabee, but Intel has been tight-lipped about its details.

The other announcements will include new quad-core chips for laptops code-named Clarksfield and based on the Nehalem microarchitecture.

Intel expects about 5,000 attendees for this year's show, roughly the same as last year, Smith said. Over the past few years, Intel has spread product announcements over multiple IDFs in different locations, but has cut down on the number of shows, he said.

"With the current economic situation we just made some business decisions that we wanted to focus on our fall IDF in San Francisco and our spring IDF in China," Smith said.

Otellini is expected to kick off the show with a keynote speech. A speech from Pat Gelsinger, formerly Intel's CTO, senior vice president and former chief technology officer, has been scratched from the agenda. Gelsinger left Intel to join EMC as president and chief operating officer of information infrastructure products earlier this week.


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