Paul Otellini kicked off this year’s Intel Developer’s Forum (IDF) declaring, “Intel used to be a chip company…now we’re becoming a solutions provider.” Intel’s just the latest semicon firm to be forced to move up the food chain, offering more than just chips. Software and systems engineers can sign up here.
The PC market isn’t exactly stagnant, with over one million PCs shipping per day according to Otellini, adding to the over 1.4 billion PCs out there today. Gartner predicts the PC market will continue to grow at over 18% per year through 2011, though other analysts question whether this mature market can support the aggressive growth for Intel that Otellini has promised investors.
The answer is where the action is: in the explosive growth in Internet-connected devices—over 5 billion now, of which Otellini estimates probably half are so-called “smart devices,” a figure he predicts will grow to 5 billion by 2014. Intel wants a piece of this action, and how they plan to get there was at the heart of this morning’s keynotes.
The goal is to break out of the PC box and extend the Intel architecture (IA) into a wide range Internet-connected devices, offering “a full PC-compatible stack” to developers and a way to seamlessly transport and utilize music, video and data between different devices. Otellini refers to this as “port choice…The whole world is about apps” and users expect them to work the same way on PCs, netbooks, smartphones, tablets, etc. As Davi Perlmutter put it in his keynote, “Users want a seamless computing experience.” Intel’s acquisition of Wind River was a move in this direction.
Intel’s also focusing on wireless connectivity between devices. It acquired Infineon’s wireless group for its 3G and LTE technology, giving them a potential entry point into handsets, where ARM has a lock on processor sockets. They purchased TI’s cable modem operation to push into the Internet TV market—Intel’s partnership with Google to create Google TV being a case in point.
On the chip level Intel’s big play this IDF is its Sandy Bridge processor, which incorporates a graphics processor (GPU) on the same die as the CPU. Despite an extended demo of gaming graphics, it’s unlikely that any serious gamer is going to go out and buy a PC without a separate GPU. Otellini referred to Sandy Bridge as “revolutionary,” which it may be for Intel but not the rest of the world. Still, it’s a big step forward for Intel in terms of graphics processing speed, which Perlmutter said has increased 25x over that Intel chips could deliver as recently as 2006.
Now if Intel can come out with a low-power version of Sandy Bridge that’s suitable for a wide range of portable embedded devices, then they’d really have something. Expect to see a lot of action on that front.