Batteries, many-core processing and Ultrabooks: IDF 2011 roundup

Summary: Intel Developer Forum 2011 had a number of recurring themes and key announcements, including: Ultrabook, better battery life, many-core computing, and a partnership with Google regarding Android.

The consumer technology business has been an interesting place these last few years.

It seemed as though an equilibrium had been reached as the various players had settled neatly into their respective roles, and on the surface it looked as if all their efforts went towards maintaining the balance of power.

It’s difficult (and dangerous) to try predict what would have happened had personal computing continued to be restricted to desktops or laptops. However, one may argue that PC development has relentlessly pursued increased mobility.

With notebooks, netbooks, PDAs, “palmtops,” and the initial attempts at tablet PCs, was what is now called the “smartphone revolution” not inevitable?

Alternate histories and nostalgia aside, the wheel has turned, and all of a sudden the processor war is not just between x86 chipzilla Intel and underdog AMD.

As the popularity (and sales) of smartphones and tablet PCs continue to sky-rocket, companies such as Nvidia, Samsung, and Qualcomm are the ones building the processors for these rapidly selling devices, and Intel is the company playing catch-up.

Intel Developer Forum 2011: Key announcements

Key announcements made by the chip giant during its 2011 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) conference held in San Francisco, suggest that the company has taken seriously the threat posed by ARM architecture in mobile computing devices and is acting on it.

Ultrabook, battery life, and “many-core computing” were the recurring themes at Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco this year (2011), but Intel CEO Paul Otellini also announced a partnership with Google to get Intel Medfield based Android devices out during the first half of 2012.

Ultrabook™

Outside of Intel’s designs on becoming the architecture of choice for Android, Intel’s other big device push is the now trademarked Ultrabook.

High-spec ultra-portable laptops are nothing new, but Intel have been punting their Ultrabook standard (and trademark) for these devices throughout 2011.

Among other things, Intel’s standard addresses how thin and light the devices need to be, how long the battery needs to last, and mainstream pricing of below $1,000 for the base model of an Ultrabook.

With tablet PC sales seeming to eat into the conventional PC market share, it remains to be seen whether the Ultrabook will be as revolutionary as Intel makes it out to be.

Many-core computing

Multi-core processing has historically been a large focus area for Intel, and this year’s IDF saw the chip maker not only promising 10+ CPU cores going forward, but also research programmes that will help ensure that applications scale well with “many core” architecture.

During his keynote at IDF, Justin Rattner, Intel CTO and director of Intel Labs, showcased a number of many-core technology demos. These included:

  1. Processing and visualization of data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
  2. Increasing the number of transactions a database server using the Memcache open source project can execute per second: from 560,000 to over 800,000 with 48 cores, with the aim of getting to a million queries per second.
  3. Parallel JavaScript engine for web browsers, demonstrated with a Firefox extension
  4. Research project for implementing an LTE (Long Term Evolution – a wireless broadband technology) base station using a multi-core Intel-based PC.

Battery life

Probably the most significant announcements and demonstrations to come out of IDF is Intel’s work to improve device battery life by decreasing the power consumption in their processors.

At the opening keynote, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said that their new Haswell architecture would offer significantly decreased power consumption. So much so that “Ultrabooks” making use of Haswell could look forward to all day usage and more than 10 days of connected standby.

Intel also demonstrated an ultra low power CPU codenamed Claremont, as well as Embedded DisplayPort (eDP) monitors employing Panel Self Refresh technology to take the burden of refreshing the display panel away from the graphics processor.

Power consumption remains a big factor holding Intel back from being a real contender in the smartphone and tablet space, so if the chip maker can deliver a platform offering the battery life they’re promising, perhaps we’ll see rekindling of the CISC vs RISC debate.

Jan Vermeulen was a guest of Intel at IDF 2011

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Batteries, many-core processing and Ultrabooks: IDF 2011 roundup