At this year's Intel Developer Forum, Intel demonstrated its vision of Intel x86 chips powering everything: from your PC, to your TV.

Smaller and faster was clearly the theme of this year's annual Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

If this year's gathering saw any significant difference, it was Intel's vision of x86 IA (Intel Architecture) chips everywhere, in PCs, mobile internet devices, phones, TVs, set-top boxes - you name it.

The show had no shortage of PC-centric announcements, of course. High-end Core i7 chips for laptops made their debut. More interesting were demos of  'the 'dales', Arrandale and Clarkdale, the future Nehalem architecture CPUs based on Intel's new 32-nanometer manufacturing process.

Clarkdale, the new dual-core desktop platform, pairs the 32nm CPU with a 45nm graphics chip in a single package. Integrating the two into a single chip allows Intel to run the graphics part faster than if those functions were still in the motherboard chipset, since the CPU has more-aggressive cooling.

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More important, the new design brings down costs by making motherboards cheaper to manufacture (the motherboard chipset chip is primarily just an I/O controller with Clarkdale).

Arrandale, the laptop variant, is similar to Clarkdale but has lower clock speeds and reduced power usage. The processor that Intel is using in both Arrandale and Clarkdale adds new AES-NI instructions, which can dramatically speed up encryption software. The first of these products is expected to debut late this year, with others to follow in early 2010.

Intel works according to what it calls the 'tick-tock' development scheme. In the 'tick' portion Intel shrinks its existing processor architecture by producing chips through a new manufacturing process; this step makes it possible for Intel to squeeze more on a chip (which results in better performance), or to produce chips with the same performance that are smaller, cooler, less power-hungry, and cheaper.

In the 'tock' phase, Intel introduces a completely new chip architecture but uses the same, now-mature manufacturing process that it used to manufacture the 'tick' products. The Westmere CPU found in Arrandale and in Clarkdale is Intel's 'tick'.

At the gathering, Intel demonstrated a working prototype of the upcoming ‘tock' in its tick-tock scheme. Code-named Sandybridge, it is to be a new CPU architecture with graphics integrated into the same piece of silicon as the CPU, produced in a 32nm manufacturing process and targeted for release in late 2010.

Intel hasn't said much about Sandybridge, except that it adds the new AVX (advanced vector extensions) instructions, which should improve the performance of math-intensive applications.

Though Clarkdale and Arrandale put graphics and the CPU on the same chip package, they're separate pieces of silicon - those products are technically a 'mutlichip package' even though, from the user's perspective, it's one 'chip' with a single heat spreader covering everything.

Sandybridge will finally integrate the items into a single piece of silicon, further speeding up Intel's integrated graphics and providing greater power and cost savings.

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NEXT PAGE: All about Atom

  1. We look at the trends emerging at this year's IDF
  2. All about Atom
  3. Intel inside your TV

At this year's Intel Developer Forum, Intel demonstrated its vision of Intel x86 chips powering everything: from your PC, to your TV.

Just to hammer home its leadership position in chip fabrication, Intel showed a working 22nm wafer, filled with static RAM (SRAM) chips (SRAM is often used as a proving ground for new chip-manufacturing technologies).

Each SRAM chip has 2.9 billion transistors and holds 364Mb, roughly twice the density of 32nm counterparts. Of course, the world doesn't use a ton of high-density SRAM; the showing today was just proof that Intel is well on its way to the next silicon manufacturing process, which will again double the amount of stuff that the chip maker can cram into the same amount of space.

That means still smaller CPUs, more powerful CPUs of the same size, or CPUs that integrate more of the system's total functionality. Production CPUs made on the 22nm process are expected in late 2011, with Intel's next 'tick'.

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All about Atom

Intel's roadmap for its Atom-based products is somewhat different. Instead of packing twice as much stuff into the same chip area, as Intel does when it moves standard desktop/laptop CPUs to new manufacturing processes, the company plans to integrate more functionality into Atom and to shrink the platform by half.

While Atom is currently prevalent in netbooks (with the Menlow platform), the new Moorestown platform shrinks and integrates more functions into fewer chips so that it can slip into mobile internet devices (MIDs) and larger smartphones. It also adds hyperthreading to Atom, boosting performance in threaded apps.

Overall, performance should be similar to that of current Atom-based products, with the exception of better video decoding. Intel has seriously reduced power consumption (especially idle power) to enable the transition, too. You should see products early next year.

Moorestown is built on a 45nm process; we probably won't see many smartphones with x86-based chips inside until Intel's 32nm Medfield chips hit the market. That will further integrate parts of the whole platform into a single piece of silicon and continue to reduce size and power consumption.

In Moorestown, Intel has focused largely on HD video decoding acceleration and audio, so you might see the platform in low-power set-top boxes, too.

Elsewhere on the mobile front, Intel introduced a new version of its Linux-based netbook/MID operating system, Moblin. Moblin 2.1 sports a new interface appropriate for the small screens you see on MIDs and large smartphones.

All of the mobile OS work in the world is meaningless without great applications, of course, so Intel has also started an app-developer program and an app-store framework that manufacturers can put into their netbooks and MIDs to give users one-stop shopping for apps.

Interested developers can join the program now at the new appdeveloper.intel.com site.

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NEXT PAGE: Intel inside your TV

  1. We look at the trends emerging at this year's IDF
  2. All about Atom
  3. Intel inside your TV


At this year's Intel Developer Forum, Intel demonstrated its vision of Intel x86 chips powering everything: from your PC, to your TV.

Intel inside your TV

Not enough 'Intel everywhere' for you? How about a new system-on-chip designed for TVs?

No, it isn't for set-top boxes or media PCs, but for actual TV processing. The new CE4100 chip can run at clock speeds of up to 1.2GHz and includes a display processor, a graphics processor, and a video display controller. It can decode two 1080p video streams simultaneously.

Support for hardware acceleration of Flash Player 10 video is expected in the first half of 2010, so HD YouTube on your connected TV will be a reality.

OpenGL ES 2.0 standard support will provide 3D graphics, as well- and if you think picture-in-picture is annoying, just wait until your TV can run dozens of 'widgets' to pump information all over the episode of Heroes you're trying to watch. Intel already has a chip for TVs and set-top boxes, the CE3100, but the CE4100 is a significant upgrade.

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See also: AMD vs Intel: The future of desktop CPUs

  1. We look at the trends emerging at this year's IDF
  2. All about Atom
  3. Intel inside your TV