Intel Doubles Down on Digital Home

By Michael Singer

January 06, 2005

CEO Craig Barrett previews new multi-core Centrino chips and rocks out with UmixIt software.

In what may be his last appearance at a Consumer Electronics Show, CEO Craig Barrett reiterated Intel's plans to equip its desktop, mobile and server processors with multi-core technology so consumers can improve their access to entertainment, gaming and computing all on one device.

The executive, who retires in May, demonstrated a dual-core-based prototype of a living room Entertainment PC.

"Analog has gone digital and communications have gone wireless," Barrett said during his CES keynote in Las Vegas Thursday. "Consumers worldwide are becoming more acquainted with the benefits of the combined experience of the Web and Wi-Fi, and the ability to access digital content anytime, anywhere on any device -- an experience that's on the rise, especially in the home."

Multi-core processors contain two or more cores in a single processor. The technique is widely seen as a promising way to boost computing power, allowing servers, workstations and PCs to perform more functions simultaneously. Both Intel and AMD report that they are shifting to a dual-core strategy this year with massive volume shipments expected in 2006.

Intel has been feverously partnering with OEMs like HP and Dell to power their Entertainment PCs. Intel is also devoting money and resources with Microsoft to foster its "Digital Joy" home PC initiative.

Barrett also said the upcoming generation of Intel Centrino mobile technology (code-named Sonoma) will support accelerated graphics for high-quality DVD video playback and gaming, theater-quality sound for MP3s and TV tuner ExpressCards.

The first batch of Sonoma-enhanced Pentium M chips are expected to sport a 533MHz front-side bus; a new Wi-Fi component that supports the 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking standards; and a new chipset code-named Alviso that supports Direct Media Interface with improved bandwidth, TV-out, high definition audio, eight USB ports, four-port PCI Express, and up to 2GB of DDR2 memory. Intel said Alviso will also support its High Definition Audio with low-power capabilities.

In many ways, however, Intel's multi-core designs are not very adventurous, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for semiconductor analyst group In-Stat/MDR.

"The first dual-core desktop processor consists of two Prescott cores on a single die, with little redesign," Krewell wrote in a recent newsletter. "The first real ground-up, dual-core design is the 65nm Yonah design for notebook computers. We don't know anything about that design yet, but it is not expected to ship until 2006 in systems.

"AMD's dual-core Opteron, while more elegant with its shared on-die memory controller interface, is also a straightforward design."

Intel spokeswoman Barbara Grimes said the Centrino family of Pentium M chips should see real growth in the second half of 2005, as the number of OEMs is expected to grow from 80 to 150.

"You will see some sub-$1,000 price points, which is appealing to consumers," Grimes told "We're also looking at more consumer-oriented systems than before and expanding Centrino across the spectrum of form factors -- from really small systems with low-voltage and ultra-low voltage chips to 17" laptops with PVR tuner and remote capabilities."

Intel said the advancements are meant to boost the use of Wi-Fi in the home as well as at hotspots.

To illustrate the point, rock band Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler joined Barrett to demonstrate UmixIt software, which lets consumers lay down their own vocals and instrumentals on top of a selected track using either a desktop or notebook PC.

Barrett also noted that WiMAX could bring greater opportunities for the entertainment industry to cash in on the wireless craze by distributing film in new ways. Intel is helping sponsor a massive WiMAX exercise at this month's Sundance Film Festival.

"WiMAX will be the technology that envelops all other networks into one digital cloud," Barrett said. "Wherever you are, the network and all the entertainment and information it carries will be there, too."

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