Intel Unleashes WiMAX, Multi-Core Strategy

Intel Unleashes WiMAX, Multi-Core Strategy

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Written By Eric Sandler

The company targets 2005 for product-wide rollout of WiMAX, multi-core chips.

SAN FRANCISCO — A few years back, Intel made a bet on Wi-Fi with its Centrino chipsets embedded in laptops and computer notebooks.

Although sales were sluggish to start, its bet paid off: Intel recently said it would continue its “Unwired” mantra with a chipset that supports three major Wi-Fi connectivity standards: 802.11b, 802.11g and now 802.11a.

This year, the No. 1 chipmaker is setting its sights on a similar uptick with WiMAX and dual-core chips to help drive sales.

At its Developer Forum here today, the company set an aggressive schedule to include both technologies in its silicon. Paul Otellini, Intel president and COO, said the company would introduce IEEE 802.16 technology (also known as WiMAX) and dual-core “threading” or “parallelism” in its products in 2005 with inclusion in majority of its portfolio in 2006.

“Three years ago at IDF, we said Intel would provide fundamental technologies and chip design features to deliver greater value and functionality,” Otellini said during the company’s bi-annual Developers Forum here. “Hyper-Threading and Intel Centrino mobile technology were the first examples we used to illustrate the point. Now, we plan to implement multi-core processors up and down our product lineup.”

Otellini said the other main growth drivers for Intel include convergence of multiple technologies and an estimated 3 billion users coming from Asia and places outside of North America, Europe and Japan. For example, Intel is launching its first developers show in South America later this year.

And although the company has experienced production delays, Otellini said he is confident that it is making the right decisions based on similar choices by the competition.

“We had some fumbles and so we went back to the basics,” Otellini said. “I’m happy to see that our competitor is also adopting a multi-core strategy because it validates our choice. This is not the same race it has been. We’re moving back toward a consistent, rigorous and conservative production schedule.”

Similarly, Intel has been evangelizing WiMAX as a last-mile DSL/cable alternative. The effort is gaining ground as Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks announced today they have joined the WiMAX alliance.

Dual Personality

Part of the reason Intel and AMD have decided to shift to multi-core strategies is that the single-core strategy that fueled the megahertz race of the last 10 years has hit a wall of physics where heat problems overshadow performance. The two companies are also looking to streamline their base silicon to be more flexible across several platforms.

Otellini’s timetable for Intel’s dual-core strategy promises the introduction of the technology in its client, server and mobile product lines starting in 2005. The company would then increase the number of multi-core chips in 2006 to include a PC portfolio with more than 40 percent supporting dual-core; a server lineup with more than 85 percent steeped in dual- or multi-core architectures; and a mobile chip family with 70 percent supporting a dual-core architecture.

Intel’s marquee example is its Itanium “Montecito” processor. Now in the testing phase with Intel’s partners, the processor has more than 1.7 billion transistors and 24 megabytes of cache memory. Otellini was less specific about Intel’s plans for dual-core Xeon, Pentium and even Pentium M processors, although all are expected.

Last-Mile MAX

With its aggressive stance on WiMAX, Intel said it is now sampling its first-generation silicon with strategic customers. Codenamed Rosedale, the chip supports IEEE 802.16-2004 (previously known as IEEE 802.16REVd). Intel said Rosedale is expected to hit the mainstream desktop market in 2005, with notebooks and handsets getting their turn in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

The system-on-chip technology will include the 802.16-2004 Media Access Controller (MAC) and OFDM physical layer , an integrated 10/100 MAC, inline security processing and a Time Division Multiplexing controller interface that allows for applications such as broadband Internet streaming data and voice over IP . Combining these attributes reduces the size of the electronics since there are fewer chips required, the company said.

A “T” Family Affair

Intel is continuing to converge various technologies with its chipsets with what the company is referring to as its “T” family.

What started back in the early 90s with the addition to MMX and Hyper Threading has turned into what Otellini calls the “Platformization of Intel.”

Intel’s Hyper Threading technology, Centrino Mobile Technology, and Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) are already present in its 90-nanometer-processed chips. Intel has also added other capabilities, including PCI-Express, Alviso audio technology and its next-generation graphics specs.

Otellini said Intel’s LaGrande Technology (Security, LT) and Vanderpool and Silvervale Technology (Virtualization, VT/ST) are scheduled to appear starting in 2006 to coordinate with Microsoft’s Longhorn.

Another new feature to be incorporated into future chipsets will allow improved management of computing assets by IT managers. The Intel Active Management Technology (IAMT) is designed to manage information across a variety of platforms, from handheld communications devices to servers.

One of the inspirations for adding all of these technologies is the introduction of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). Since the working group published its first spec in June, the group is looking to connect entertainment PCs via Digital Transmission Content Protection over Internet Protocols (or DTCP/IP for short). The technology allows customers to distribute content over a number of devices. Otellini said Microsoft added its support to Intel’s efforts, noting that the chipmaker is also reaching out to Sony and Apple, which have somewhat conflicting technologies.

Intel said it is expecting the first products with DTCP/IP support to ship in the second half of 2004.

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