Tag Archives | Processors

Intel Will Bet Big on Ultra-Low Voltage Laptops

Laptops don’t make for the most exciting news these days, but I’m pleased to hear that Intel’s PC plans call for a big bet on ultra-low voltage processors, as Ars Technica reports.

Ultra-low voltage, or ULV, refers to a range of processors that are more powerful than Intel’s netbook-centric Atom while retaining excellent battery life and allowing for slim figures. (I’m typing on an ULV laptop now, an Asus UL80vt.)

These thin-and-light ULV laptops were pricey when Intel introduced them a couple years ago, and they quickly earned niche status instead of mainstream success. Still, they offer what a lot of people are looking for in a computer — moderate performance and strong battery life in a lightweight frame — and pricing has come down. The company has already launched low-voltage versions of its Core i3, i5 and i7 processors

So it makes sense for Intel to give ULV a bigger role in its lineup. Whereas the the power draw for Intel’s chips previously centered around 35 watts, the company plans to set the center point around 10 or 15 watts, with the goal of making 10-hour battery life a reality for most machines.

On a recent trip to Best Buy, I was surprised by how chunky most laptops look, even compared to my 18-month-old machine. If Intel and PC makers can deliver lots of ultra-thin ULV laptops in the coveted $600 price range, the dreary old laptop could start to look exciting once again.


Apple Moving Macs to ARM? If History is Any Guide, That’s…Entirely Plausible

A Web site with the wonderful name SemiAccurate is reporting that it’s a “done deal” that Apple will dump Intel chips for ones based on the ARM architecture used in most smartphones and tablets, including the iPhone and iPad–and it’ll do it “as soon as possible.” I tend to be skeptical about rumors of great big news that come from not-so-well-known sites. But I’m nowhere near as skeptical as VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar:

Seems to me that there are several factors that make a Mac move to ARM plausible, or least very far from unthinkable…

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CES 2011: Yup, Microsoft is Bringing Windows to ARM Chips

Steve Ballmer’s CES keynote isn’t until 6:30pm PT tonight–I’ll be liveblogging it–but Microsoft already made news today at an afternoon press event by confirming the Wall Street Journal’s report that it’s working on a version of Windows that will run on the ARM chips widely used in phones, tablets, set-top boxes and other computing devices that aren’t PCs, as well as competitive x86 system-on-a-chip designs from Intel and AMD. Windows honcho Steven Sinofksy did some demos of Windows (and Office, and IE) running on test boards powered by these processors, and said that the system requirements of phones and the system requirements of PCs are starting to converge, and that his demos were of “the next generation of Windows,” which he refused to call Windows 8. He also showed a new version of Microsoft’s Surface table build by Samsung and based on all-new technology.

And that’s about all he did–he cheerfully announced that he wasn’t talking about the user interface of the new Windows or when it might ship. More thoughts later…


Windows on ARM? Logical. Windows on ARM in 2013? That's an Eternity from Now

Numerous news sources are reporting that Microsoft plans to demo a version of Windows that runs on low-power ARM chips–rather than the x86 processors that Windows has been (mostly) synonymous with since its inception–at CES next month. Here are reports from Ian King and Dina Bass of Bloomberg, Don Clark and Nick Wingfield of the Wall Street Journal, and Ina Fried of All Things D.

I was startled by the news–until I thought it over, whereupon it didn’t seem so surprising any more. For decades, x86 processors (mostly from Intel and AMD) have been inside most computers that mattered, and so the fact that Windows ran on them was a virtue. (In fact, when Microsoft ported Windows NT to other CPUs in the 1990s–DEC’s Alpha and MIPS–the new versions turned out to be irrelevant, and so the company pulled the plug.)

But what happens if tablets and other new-wave computing devices become serious rivals to traditional PCs? x86 as it stands today isn’t especially well-suited to tablets, since it wasn’t designed from the ground up for energy efficiency and small form factors. (That was supposedly one reason why HP pretty much lost interest in its own Windows tablet and bought Palm’s Web OS.)

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Intel’s New 48 Core Processor Won’t Change Your Life

Intel began sharing a programmable 48 core processor with researchers, according to reports published today. That is progress towards a future generation of computing, but don’t expect the technology to significantly impact your life for many more years to come.

The processor, which Intel calls a “single-chip cloud computer,” is about 20 times more powerful than Intel’s most powerful six and eight core processors that are available on the market today. It also provides that capacity while remaining energy efficient.

It might sound revolutionary, but it is just the evolutionary progression of the many-cores trend that has occurred over the past several years. Intel showed off its ability to design an 80 core chip in 2007, and very little has changed from the end user’s perspective over the past two years.

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Intel and AMD Declare a Truce of Sorts

Intel and AMDOne of the longest-running, fiercest battles in tech isn’t exactly ending–but it’s sure entering a new phase. Today, Intel and AMD announced that they’ve reached a settlement that ends their legal wrangling (most notably AMD’s lawsuit against Intel for monopoly abuse), establishes a patent cross-licensing agreement, sets ground rules for how Intel can compete with AMD, and puts $1.25 billion of Intel’s money in AMD’s pockets.

The agreement doesn’t end legal action against Intel by government officials, such as the EU’s $1.45 billion fine for abusive business practices (which Intel is appealing) or New York State’s recently-filed lawsuit.

For consumers, the major question about the settlement is pretty simple: Does it increase the likelihood of healthy competition between Intel and AMD, thereby driving greater chip innovation and lower prices so that we get the most PC possible for our money? We’ll see. But it’s fascinating to look at what Intel has agreed to refrain from doing, as reported by Cnet:

• Offering inducements to customers in exchange for their agreement to buy all of their microprocessor needs from Intel, whether on a geographic, market segment, or any other basis

• Offering inducements to customers in exchange for their agreement to limit or delay their purchase of microprocessors from AMD, whether on a geographic, market segment, or any other basis

• Offering inducements to customers in exchange for their agreement to limit their engagement with AMD or their promotion or distribution of products containing AMD microprocessors, whether on a geographic, channel, market segment, or any other basis

• Offering inducements to customers in exchange for their agreement to abstain from or delay their participation in AMD product launches, announcements, advertising, or other promotional activities

• Offering inducements to customers or others to delay or forebear in the development or release of computer systems or platforms containing AMD microprocessors, whether on a geographic, market segment, or any other basis

• Offering inducements to retailers or distributors to limit or delay their purchase or distribution of computer systems or platforms containing AMD microprocessors, whether on a geographic, market segment, or any other basis

• Withholding any benefit or threatening retaliation against anyone for their refusal to enter into a prohibited arrangement such as the ones listed above.

Basically, Intel’s agreeing not to take actions that would shut AMD out of dealing with major PC companies entirely, or hobble it so severely that it might as well be shut out. Sounds good to me. I wanna have the opportunity to choose between PCs based on a variety of processors from multiple companies.

Ultimately, AMD has always fared best when its portfolio of chips has been at its strongest in comparison to Intel’s offerings. Today’s agreement won’t have any immediate effect on its product lineup, of course. But if it increases the chances that a great AMD chip will get a great response from the industry, it would be…great.


Intel Unveils the Mobile Core i7 Processor

Intel Core i7 InsideWhile I’ve been at DEMOfall in San Diego, Intel has been holding its equally newsworthy Intel Developer Forum conference back in San Francisco. Today’s big announcement was the mobile version of the Core i7 quad-core CPU (code-named Clarksfield),as seen in such new laptops as Toshiba’s latest Qosmio. Laptop Magazine has benchmarked a Core i7 notebook provided to it by Intel, and found it to be smoking’ fast–but with iffy battery life. As usual, there’s a limit to the conclusions you can draw about a processor from tests of one computer–especially one supplied by the chipmaker in question. But as more machines ship from major manufacturers–including, eventually, Apple–expect some really powerful systems, starting at a relatively reasonable $1000 or so.

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AMD Keeps It Simple. Very Simple.

For as long as I can remember, AMD has been trying to convince the world to worry less about specsmanship when thinking about the CPUs inside PCs. It’s often had a point, such as when it argued that processor clockspeeds were a lousy way to judge a chip’s performance. (It largely won that war when Intel deemphasized clockspeeds in its marketing, although I have a sneaking suspicion that consumers still use them as a primary means of comparing processors.)

Now AMD is making a dramatic bid to simplify branding of its CPUs down to the bare essentials. In fact, rather than emphasizing specific CPUs at all, it will focus on three levels of performance:

AMD Vision

PCs with Vision technology are basic machines designed for Web browsing, music listening, and the like. Ones with Vision Premium are potent enough to handle video and audio conversion well, as well as gaming. And Vision Ultimate indicates that a PC is well suited to video recording, audio editing, advanced photo editing, and the like.

Beyond the fancy stickers, there are two simple ideas here: AMD is emphasizing media applications (which makes sense, since video and audio-related performance is the main reason to worry about what chip you get at all) and is giving consumers the classic choice between good, better, and best. (However, it plans to introduce Vision Black, a sort of “bester” designation aimed at gamers and enthusiasts, early next year.)

Intel, meanwhile, is trying to simplify performance comparisons, too–but its menu of choices is broader and more complicated, and it’s not always easy to figure out how everything relates. Which brings up an issue with Vision that’s out of AMD’s control: The most important CPU comparisons are those you make between processors from competing companies, and it isn’t obvious how the three Vision options map to Intel’s chip family.

I’m sure that serious tech enthusiasts will squawk that AMD is dumbing things down too much (and the company does say that it’ll use more traditional, meaty technical facts to market its chips and technology for that crowd). But when I think about how I buy PCs these days, the Vision distinctions would probably do the trick. There was a time when I dithered over whether I needed a CPU with a math coprocessor, and got excited over stuff like MMX extensions. Today, I mostly want a general idea of whether the processor will be potent enough for the tasks I’m likely to throw at it. And once I’ve plunked down my money for a computer, I tend to forget what’s inside.

How much time do you spend thinking about CPUs these days?


Your Questions, AMD’s Answers

Technologizer;s Q&A[A NOTE FROM HARRY: Here’s the inaugural edition of a new feature: Technologizer Q&A. We’ll give you the opportunity to pose questions to interesting technology companies. First up is chipmaker AMD–many thanks to VP of Advanced Marketing Pat Moorhead for answering these queries.

Got nominations for other companies you’d like answers from? Let me know–I’m lining up subjects for future installments.]

Fernando Garcia asks:

I have always asked the following question. Why is it that AMD will not step up advertising? A good 70% of the consumer public,still does not know what AMD is. I used to work for Best Buy and on the average day, one out of eight persons I would speak to knew what AMD was. Whenever I asked a customer  about processors automatically they would say Intel.

Pat answers:

Simply taking out more advertising does not guarantee a product’s success. I think the best way to answer that is AMD chooses to focus differently. We first focus on making our customers and their channel partners successful by investing in them, not leveraging off their brandsby sandwiching them between AMD logos. We want to invest in our customers’ success. For those people who are specifically focused on the “processor,” we have very high awareness and market directly to end user groups. These include but are not limited to enthusiasts, gamers, DIYers, Fortune 1000 and government decision makers, etc.

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AMD Splits in Two

It’s been a possibility for a while, and now it’s a reality: AMD, the perennial number-two CPU company to Intel and one of the few chip companies that both designs and manufactures processors, plans to break itself up. The company behind Phenom, Athlon, Opteron, and other CPUs will become two companies: one that designs chips, and one that makes them. The design company will end up partially owned by Mubadala, a company which is owned by Abu Dhabi; ATIC, another company owned by Abu Dhabi, will own the majority of the manuacturing company. Both of those Middle Eastern investments will provide an infusion of cash which is designed to help AMD with its next-generation chips and therefore its overall competitiveness with Intel.

Emotionally, the move may be a big deal for AMD, which has spent decades taking on Intel by, essentially, trying to be Intel. But nearly everyone else involved in the designing and building of processors has decided that financially, it makes sense to separate the building part–which involves massive, massively expensive plants–from the designing.

I’m neither an economist nor an expert on chip manufacturing, so I can’t judge the deal on its merits. But if it helps the two new companies produce more advanced chips more quickly, it’s a good thing for consumers. And, of course, a good thing for AMD, which has struggled to stay even vaguely competitive with the products from its much larger competitor in recent years. (The golden age of the Intel-AMD wars were back around the turn of the century, when AMD rolled out the excellent original Athlon CPU, giving every PC user a reason to consider an AMD-powered computer–and giving Intel a scare that ensured it wouldn’t spend the next few years resting on its technological laurels.)

The chip wars matter to most consumers only because they’re a driver of healthy competition that results in faster, cheaper CPUs that power faster, cheaper computers and other devices. For that reason, I’m happiest when AMD is at its most competitive versus Intel–and hope that this corporate breakup makes as much sense as AMD thinks it will.

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