IDF 2011: Ivy Bridge, Haswell, PCIe SSDs, Windows 8, and "Hybrid" Tablets
September 15, 2011 4:15 PM
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.
2011 Intel Developer Forum
we've attended scores of Intel Corp. (
) keynotes, technical "deep-dive" sessions and other events, and we're excited at what we've seen. Here's some of the highlights:
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
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
, DX11 was largely pointless, as it lacked the processing might to put features like tessellation to good use.
GPU is quite a different story.
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
(which can't even play DirectX 11 content) and rival Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.'s (
) top end
A-Series of Fusion advanced processing units
, which does
in HAWX 2 as well.
One thing Intel was plugging a lot was "hybrid" tablets, à la
ASUSTEK Computer Inc.'s (
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. (
) 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 (
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
. 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
would contain a "tick" GPU -- a die shrink -- given that
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
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.
"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad
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