Big changes coming to notebook design by 2015

Mobile computers in 2015 will significantly eclipse today's notebooks in terms of usability and capabilities

Powerful Components

It doesn't take a very clear crystal ball to know that the next generation of notebooks will deliver much more computing power. And notebooks will also get smarter as components continue to shrink and more components get squeezed onto a sliver of silicon the size of a fingernail.

The result will be that notebooks will be able to perform tasks that we can only dream of today. Here's what our experts say those components will look like and what they'll be able to do.

Processors

It's a sure bet that we won't be using a mere single- or double-core processor by 2015. Most notebooks will have at least six computational cores, if not eight, according to the experts we contacted.

Such technology is available today, so it surely will be standard-issue on laptops of the future, the experts agreed. Having at least six computational cores at your disposal will not only make high-end simulations and data visualizations possible, but will also make for one heck of a game of Halo.

Missing your Bus

The CPU's front-side bus will likely disappear by 2015. The bus acts like a traffic cop, sending data to the different parts of the system at a slower speed than the computational core. In its place will be an integrated controller that makes this distribution of data much more efficient by operating faster.

As with multiple-core processors, this trend is already under way -- Intel, for instance, has announced that its Nehalem CPU microarchitecture, set to debut later this year, will feature an integrated memory controller, eliminating the need for a front-side bus. However, it will take a long time for this trend to reach CPUs used in notebook computers -- the 2015 time frame seems reasonable, the experts agreed.

Storage

With most notebooks having built-in wireless broadband connections, a new onslaught of data is expected. As a result, where we'll store our accumulated files will be transformed.

According to Intel's Trainor, we'll see ever-more storage capacity in smaller and smaller packages, along with solid-state memory that is lighter and faster, while being more rugged and using less power.

Currently, adding 64GB of solid state capacity to a notebook's hard drive runs an extra $1,000. By 2015, the typical mainstream notebook could be outfitted with a 2TB hard disk drive, which should be plenty of room for even the biggest data hog, the experts speculated. For smaller and lighter machines, look to having something like 250GB of flash memory at your disposal, but it will likely come at a small premium.

There will be a new type of storage as well that has can boost performance, said Intel's Trainor. Currently, with Windows Vista, a USB flash memory key can act as an intermediate data cache for the system's hard drive.

This makes the most-used data more quickly available for the processor, streamlining its operation. Called Turbo or Robson memory, this technique will go into overdrive when the flash memory is put on the motherboard for faster access, Trainor noted.

Displays

We'll look at our notebooks in a different light in 2015 as sequential red, green, blue LED backlighting replaces the cold cathode fluorescent lighting tubes found in today's LCD screens. This technology will not only offer brighter images, but will also use less power.

Ultimately, organic LEDs will take over, although they may not be ready in time for a 2015 system in the sizes and quantities required for mass production. Because they make their own light, OLEDs can be made thinner than today's screens.

These screens have been used on phones for several years, and Sony's XEL-1 is the first TV to have an OLED display. Its 11-in. OLED screen is just over a tenth of an inch thick.

"We're very excited about OLEDs," said Trainor. "They're capable of producing beautiful, rich colors and using less power. It adds another choice."

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Brian Nadel

Computerworld (US)
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