With the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) starting tomorrow (September 11) and the pending launch of new products from Apple on Wednesday, all eyes are on San Francisco. Not only will these two events define the direction of many new consumer electronics products, but also the technology driving them.
For processor technology, IDF will be the highlight of the week, but Apple is also likely to be showing off new processor technology, while AMD and ARM are hosting smaller gatherings as well. The result will be a sneak peek into not only the new processor technologies being released, but also future processor technologies under development.
Intel will be releasing new PC and server processors, including the new PC processors based on the Haswell microarchitecture. Last week Intel released some information about the Haswell microarchitecture, including a mobile version of the product family that will feature a 10W thermal design power (TDP) and an integrated I/O hub, critical features for x86 tablets and the next generation of ultra-thin PCs, or what Intel refers to as ultrabooks.
However, questions remain about Intel’s Atom processors. Atom is actually a core technology that Intel uses for applications ranging from high-end smartphones to low-end PCs and embedded applications. But the target for Atom has always been the mainstream smartphone, a segment in which Intel is just beginning to have some success. Intel will likely be discussing future products in the Atom product line to achieve this very goal. The company has set its sights on the end of 2013 for the introduction of a new line of Atom-based processors that will utilize the company’s next generation 14nm manufacturing process technology and be truly competitive with ARM-based processors. However, that product release is still a generation beyond the Merrifield product release anticipated shortly.
I have always maintained that Intel can be competitive technically with other smartphone processors, but that there were challenges with overcoming the incumbent technologies that have critical mass. On the positive side for Intel, all but Apple, which develops its own processors, most smartphone vendors have shown an increasing willingness to switch processor vendors from one generation to the next.
Processor features and availability are among the most important criteria in the processor selection from one design to another. This will create opportunities for Intel and Atom processors in the future, but the changing dynamics of the smartphone market may now present other obstacles.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.