Intel looks ahead

Louis Burns, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop platforms group, and Mike Fister, vice president and general manager of the enterprise platform group, delivered back-to-back keynote presentations here on the last day of the Intel Developer Forum, presenting a unified charge.

Intel's planned processor improvements will mean that customers need networks that allow PCs to communicate more quickly with peripherals and servers. In turn, servers also will need to communicate more quickly with other parts of computer systems, they said.

Burns was first up and covered some new features Intel plans to add to its chipsets to speed communication between PCs and media-centered peripherals. He also spoke about Intel's vision of the PC as the centre of home entertainment and about the digital lifestyle.

"We are working on technologies that think about the future and have the legs to go there," Burns said. "We have a very strong belief in the PC as the centre of that home technology."

As the Pentium 4 makes applications using 3D graphics, speech recognition or gaming run faster, Intel expects to see more users wanting to connect devices to PCs and move their entertainment computing power around the house. With this in mind, the company announced it will offer native support for USB (universal serial bus) in all of its chipsets by early next year. In addition, Intel will make wireless protocol support native in all of its chipsets over the next two years. USB support should guarantee that devices can plug into PCs with ease, while the wireless support should add mobility to users looking to carry devices with them.

Huge improvements need to be made with I/O support -- or the way a PC communicates with peripheral devices -- over the next few years in order to ensure that data-transfer rates can match eventual expected processor speeds of 15Ghz, Burns said. Within 10 years, current I/O technologies will fall below processor speeds, so Intel has started research on what it calls third-generation I/O technologies.

The research has led Intel to conclude that "12Ghz is where we think copper will run out in the I/O space," Burns said. "So, we have laid the foundation for a third generation I/O architecture. We are thinking 10 years out and preparing for optical connectors."

A preliminary specification for that architecture will be ready by the Intel Developer Conference in August, he said.

With PCs swapping information with peripheral devices and attempting to pull in loads of bandwidth for multimedia applications, Intel also elaborated on its plans for servers strong enough to handle a world of increasing demands.

Intel will continue to grow its server business across the board be it front end, mid-tier or "monster" systems in the back, Fister said. The 64-bit Itanium line will continue to stand as Intel's answer for mid-range to large servers, while Intel's current IA-32 architecture will continue to run across all three server segments for some time.

McKinley is where it's at

Intel also highlighted its upcoming chip code-named McKinley, which is due to follow the Itanium chips expected out mid-year. Intel displayed the first live working demo of McKinley earlier this week and should ramp up production in about a year.

The heavy focus on McKinley had some analysts intrigued as to how developers will map out their course in the months ahead.

Jean Bozman, an analyst with IDC, looks for some early adopters to be intrigued by the McKinley push, while others might pass on Itanium as McKinley is an option in the not- too-far future.

"They are increasing expectations about McKinley being ready and available," Bozman said. "While it will take a year realistically for it to get going, developers can see that McKinley is right behind Itanium."

Developers working in the academic fields, financial research segments and intensive engineering areas may adopt Itanium first out of necessity. However, others may not show tremendous interest until McKinley comes around, Bozman said.

Fister also emphasised progress with the InfiniBand architecture designed for connecting differing hardware in networks. Just as with the PC, users will generate more data and require faster systems to transfer that data. In order to handle these oncoming demands, Intel expects InfiniBand to solve connectivity problems between storage, servers, routers and switches.

"InfiniBand should allow servers and storage to talk together over multiple links," Bozman said. "There will be more jump-off points to send data over to the storage units."

The I/O initiatives on the PC and the InfiniBand work in the back end marks an attempt to look to the future and solve possible upcoming connectivity problems, Bozman said.

"With new data types you need to have support on the desktop that matches support on the server," Bozman said. "They are definitely looking ahead."

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Ashlee Vance

PC World
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