Display chips, Pentium M part of digital home

Intel's "laser focus" on the consumer will lead to digital display processors and desktops based on the Pentium M mobile processor.

Intel confirmed its plans to release processors targeted specifically at consumer electronics and digital home devices, and dropped some of the strongest hints yet that it is planning to eventually shift its processors for desktop PCs to the Pentium M chip during a morning keynote address at the Spring Intel Developer Forum.

Don MacDonald, general manager of Intel's newly formed Digital Home Group, announced that Intel plans to develop three processors designed specifically to enhance the performance of digital displays. Few details were immediately available about the Rembrandt Digital Display processor, the Matisse Digital Video De-Interfacer, and the Monet Integrated Multimedia Display processor, but the chips will be part of platforms that Intel plans to deliver to consumer electronics manufacturers, MacDonald said.

Sources told IDG News Service in December that Intel was planning to amplify its stake in the consumer electronics market, but the company declined to confirm those plans at the time. Intel has sold its Pentium 4 and Celeron processors for use in consumer electronics devices like set-top boxes and video players, but it's now clear that these devices will be a significant focus of the Digital Home Group. Future devices will incorporate the technology Intel plans to acquire from Oplus Technology, which is expected to close in a few months, Intel said last week.

MacDonald also showed conference attendees a sleek small desktop based on Yonah, the dual-core successor to the Pentium M processor that is expected to be released in wide volumes early in 2006. Intel is expected to eventually shift all of its processors for client devices to the Pentium M architecture, taking advantage of its low-power characteristics.

As part of a company-wide reorganization in January, Intel formed the Digital Home Group with "a laser focus" on the consumer, MacDonald said. His group is currently developing processors and platforms using chips based on the venerable Pentium 4 architecture, but Intel has given MacDonald the freedom to pick architectures from across Intel's assets, he said.

"The Digital Home Group can use any of the resources within Intel in our space," MacDonald said.

The current Pentium M processors provide plenty of performance for basic computing tasks undertaken by a small form factor PC, said Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst with The Envisioneering Group. And technologies within Yonah are expected to dramatically improve the performance of the chip for general computing tasks and multimedia applications.

"If you want to make a PC the size of a laptop, you need to use laptop parts," Glaskowsky said. Consumers are expected to prefer smaller PCs for their digital homes that occupy less space than today's desktops and operate without loud cooling fans, ideal characteristics provided by the Pentium M, he said.

For now, MacDonald's group is preparing to roll out the Anchor Creek platform for digital home PCs. This platform uses either the Pentium D processor, a dual-core processor, or the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 dual-core processor that also comes with hyperthreading technology for a total of four application threads.

These multiple threads will change the way that families use computers in their homes, MacDonald said. He demonstrated a desktop PC with the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 that could play a high-definition video in a virtual living room while another family member played a video game in another room. Both the video and the game were shown running on the system without any interruptions in the image, taking advantage of the multithreaded technology available in the Extreme Edition 840, MacDonald said. That chip will be available in the second quarter.

The Anchor Creek platform will also come with new chipset technology with improved graphics performance, MacDonald said.

In addition to the small form factor PC shown with the Yonah core during MacDonald's presentation, Intel also announced a concept design for a corporate desktop PC that uses the company's mobile technology.

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Tom Krazit

IDG News Service
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