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As Will.i.am says tech enthusiasts will be like "a kid in a candy shop" when they see all this new tech

It's invaluable to get the chance to network with a company and get a chance to witness their vision first hand.  When that company happens to be the world's largest maker of CPUs for traditional personal computers and servers, that opportunity goes from good to great.

At the 2011 Intel Developer Forum we've attended scores of Intel Corp. (INTC) keynotes, technical "deep-dive" sessions and other events, and we're excited at what we've seen.  Here's some of the highlights:

Ivy Bridge

Ivy Bridge is Intel's 22 nm processor, which is set to debut in the first half of next year.  A lot is already known about the chip.  It will be first to use Intel's tri-gate (3D) transistor (aka "FinFET") technology, which we detailed on Tuesday.

But one interesting thing Intel emphasized in its keynote was that while Ivy Bridge was a "tick" (die shrink) from an architectural perspective, the on-die GPU is a "tock".  The GPU has undergone a significant architectural design and appears to pack a lot more power.  In a demo Intel showed the GPU processing and displaying 20 high-definition video streams.

For gamers, a big improvement will be the inclusion of DirectX 11.  With Sandy Bridge, DX11 was largely pointless, as it lacked the processing might to put features like tessellation to good use.  Ivy Bridge's  GPU is quite a different story.



Ivy Bridge was shown off playing Tom Clancy's Hawx 2.  Of course this was a carefully prepared demo, but framerates looked smooth.  This leads us to believe that Intel has at least closed the gaps between Sandy Bridge (which can't even play DirectX 11 content) and rival Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.'s (AMD) top end A-Series of Fusion advanced processing units, which does pretty decent in HAWX 2 as well.



One thing Intel was plugging a lot was "hybrid" tablets, à la ASUSTEK Computer Inc.'s (TPE:2357) Eee Pad Transformer.  The basic idea here is to have a tablet, which can double as a laptop via a tailored keyboard (which may or may not be detachable.  This isn't exactly a new class of devices, but it has yet to see as significant sales as traditional tablets.

However, with Apple, Inc. (AAPL) having been granted sole ownership of "minimalist" tablets in Germany, and with other regions pending rulings, intellectual property may be one key obstacle to this class of devices.  Apple has made it clear that it will sue any tablet maker who "copies its design" (translation: any tablet maker who sees significant sales).

While this hybrid doesn't look much like an iPad, it does have a minimalist tablet face, a multi-touch screen, and a black bezel.  So don't be surprised if these designs see similar lawsuits and sales bans if they do well -- or unless the majority of world courts disallow Apple's litigious crusade.



A small but interesting side note, Intel insisted that Thunderbolt was on its way for Windows.  Thus far Apple has enjoyed exclusive access to the ultra-fast communications standard, which is an early implementation of Intel's LightPeak.

Upsides to Thunderbolt are that it is significantly faster than USB 3.0.  Downsides are that it relies on specialized multi-chip cables that cost $50 USD.



In the realm of future hard drives, SATA is going to be faded out and replaced with connections over PCIe.  Intel is currently going the Advanced Host Controller Interface -- a hardware abstraction layer to manage connections to PCIe hard drives.  Peripheral models employing this tech are coming soon.  They will work with standard eSata cables, but will connect using PCIe lanes.



Obviously this is a inferior solution in the long term.  In that realm Intel is looking to deploy a drivers technology called NVMe.  The tech should offer much more efficient file I/O with hard drives on PCIe connections.  A reference driver is currently complete for Linux which supports 2X PCIe lane transfers.  Intel's engineers say that they are currently working on a similar reference driver for Windows 7, though it isn't complete. 



In related news, Intel was showing off tablets powered by Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) slick Windows 8 Metro user interface.  Animations on the x86 tablets looked very fluid (we saw one live in a small private setting).



The look of this tablet is far ahead of iOS 5 or even the relatively graphical Android 3.0 "Honeycomb".  When you consider that this slick GUI is bundled along-side the kind of fully-functional file browsing interface (via the accessible "traditional" Windows screen) that iOS and Android lacks, it won't be surprising if Windows 8 tablets are the hottest item come next year's holiday season.



Last, but not least, Intel happened to mention it had produced a Haswell chip.  While not due to hit the market till 2013, the 22 nm architecture redesign ("tock") promises to make a huge splash in two years.



We probed an Intel executive about whether Haswell would contain a "tick" GPU -- a die shrink -- given that Ivy Bridge packed a "tock" GPU.  The executive hinted that Intel liked to "mix things up" and that sticking to a static two year schedule is too predictable to the competition.  This hints that Haswell might have both CPU and GPU architectural revisions.  If so, that's very exciting news.

Coupled with the 22 nm Tri-Gate tech from the previous model, this should be some powerful bits of silicon when they hit the market.



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RE: That's nice
By someguy123 on 9/15/2011 9:18:03 PM , Rating: 2
It's bundled in there because of how cheap it is. If they removed it the consumer would probably only see pennies of savings per unit.

May as well keep it in there for people who find it useful. It's like those optical out ports on your motherboard's soundcard. Most people I know don't even know what it is, but I have it hooked up to my external DAC all the time.


RE: That's nice
By bug77 on 9/16/2011 4:13:37 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
It's bundled in there because of how cheap it is.


Cheap? It's 20% of the die size on a Sandy Bridge. probably more on Ivy.
And I didn't say they should remove it, I just said I'd like to see models with no GPU along with those with integrated graphics.


RE: That's nice
By someguy123 on 9/16/2011 1:10:57 PM , Rating: 2
Material measurements don't directly reflect the cost. Being a unified process probably ends up saving them money compared to a separate process for IGPs on motherboards. Its doubtful that they would charge customers less per chip even if it was excluded in certain chips since it would increase costs elsewhere, as there is very high demand for their IGP, however low performing it may be.


RE: That's nice
By Da W on 9/16/2011 1:47:03 PM , Rating: 1
Anyway being a near monopoly on this market they sell at the profit maximizing price (i.e. find the right price that will maximise Quantity X Price) according to the demand they face, which is a function of the demand for PCs, the performance of the chip and the availability of substitute from competitor.

Cost of production has no link with selling price in this industry.


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