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Intel eases up in race to 10GHz

Siu tweaks the roadmaps

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

A casual observer at Intel's Developer Forum earlier this month might have thought the company that grew fat on the back of ever faster desktop PC chips was now more focused on mobile and server chips,

writes Joe Fay.

In the company's client day presentation at the conference, discussion of desktops was largely restricted to home use, while Intel said its own executives' use of wireless laptops pointed the way for how businesses will use clients in the future.

However, in an interview with ComputerWire, Bill Siu, vice president and general manager of the company's desktop platforms group, painted a more complex relationship between the vendor's desktop and mobile strategies, while confirming that clock speed was not a driver in itself.

Siu said that there had been a shift in focus at the company. "In the 1990s, it was a go go period, with the internet booming," he said. Now, he said, the company faces another challenge. "It's not just bigger, faster, but how to address how it's going to be used. It's really around usage models."

The onset of Prescott, the next evolution of the P4 due next year, seems to illustrate this gentler approach to speed. Prescott will be built on a 90 nanometer manufacturing process and will feature an enhanced version of the Netburst core which is already at the heart of the Pentium 4. The Pentium 4 has leapfrogged up the speed ramp, from 1.4GHz at launch in the Fall of 2000, and will hit 3GHz by the end of this year. At the P4's launch, Intel put the lifespan of Netburst at up to seven years and said that if Moore's law held true, the company had the headroom to break the 10GHz mark by 2006.

The vendor has consistently said the Netburst architecture can scale up to 10GHz. However, Siu last week appeared to suggest that the drive to higher speeds will moderate in the coming years. Prescott will underpin the vendor's desktop line through 2004, he said. "I don't think Prescott will hit 10GHz in this iteration," he said. More significantly, perhaps, he described Netburst as having a ten year cycle, implying that Intel's race to the 10GHz mark will not be as break-neck as some may have expected.

Siu also said that despite the company's focus on mobile processors, it would be a mistake to assume that the company only saw desktop processors being significant in the home market, or that raw power was no longer a consideration. There was still a demand in the enterprise for powerful desktops, especially in the development sector. "At the top end there's a performance piece [of the market]," he said, where speed, storage and graphics were key factors.

In addition, he said, the shift to mobile PCs was not such a driver in developing markets. This is partly a factor of cost, he said. The lack of mobile infrastructure was also another break on wireless notebook use.

"Our expectation is [the] mobile and transportable [sectors] will grow faster," Siu said. "Desktop will grow in numbers, maybe not in percentage."

And while the profile of the vendor's mobile processor operation may be rising, Siu said the two groups will still see considerable cross-fertilization. The power management features being developed for wireless mobiles would also be useful in the high performance desktop space he said. Meanwhile, Prescott would eventually feed back into the mobile range. "You will see a mobile Prescott somewhere along the way," he said. "We believe there is a market and a desire for this kind of performance."

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