NEW YORK Intel's annual analysts briefing here this week was short on technology details but long on vision and product sneak peeks. The world's largest semiconductor company is broadening its portfolio of semiconductor, services, software and funding solutions to empower Internet growth at all levels.
"The environment is changing in a very profound fashion," warned Intel chairman Andy Grove. "The key factor that is motivating us is the realization that the Internet runs on silicon. Our strategy . . . is simply to follow the bits as they traverse from computer to computer, to the Internet structure and back again."
That strategy appears to have paid off for Intel. From the microprocessor-dominant revenue structure of 1997, Intel is now branching successfully into communications processing, handhelds and set-tops, and it claims one of the most successful Internet and silicon venture fund portfolios in the industry.
The meeting marked the first time Intel had met face to face with analysts after having made huge investments and acquisitions in communications, digital signal processors and wireless in the past year. Intel management disclosed low-power Pentium III chips, 400-MHz 32-bit Willamette buses and chip sets, high communications processor sales, huge Internet server deployment commitments, Celeron set-tops and Web terminals, and Intel technology fund investments that had bettered the Dow. Many Wall Street and Silicon Alley analysts were surprised to learn that Intel is fast-tracking cell phone and wireless PDA silicon solutions to meet a market whose unit volume is soon expected to eclipse that for PCs.
Sub-1 Watt Pentiums Shown
In a blow to recent X86 power performance claims from Transmeta, Intel demonstrated a sub-1-watt mobile Pentium processor. The 500- or 600-MHz, 0.18-micron-process chip averaged 0.89 W in a live demo. Peak W hit 4.25; the lowest idle was about 210 mW. Intel managers forecast the achievement of greater than 1-GHz performance at less than 1 W during 2002.
In the StrongARM market, Intel claimed several hundred design wins for the SA 1100 and SA1110 processor duo in products ranging from handhelds to Intel Communications Processor IX rack systems. Heat buildup is the nemesis of such tightly packed communications centers.
The one technology response that did not sit well with analysts was Intel's insistence that it will be able to stay the course on Rambus. Paul Otellini, Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Business Group made the assertion amid analyst concerns that not enough parts are available to meet demand. The financial community also sought more meat and detail on where Intel's acquisition of Giga will trigger additional "photonic" networking products. "No comment," said Intel CEO Craig Barrett.
Intel managers conceded they had underestimated late 1999 and early 2000 processor demand. Answering investor concerns head on, Otellini assured the audience., "I'm comfortable that the amount of wafer start capacity we have is more than sufficient to meet second-half demands. We called it [PC 2000 demand] too close," conceded Barrett. "We were delinquent."
Set-tops, Web terminals ready
Intel managers showed a stage full of PC and non-PC solutions that displayed the breadth of Intel's technology capability, from RIM two-way pagers to pocket PCs, Web terminals and set-tops A Celeron processor digital set-top for the Chinese market was shown for the first time. The system sports hi-resolution S-video, stereo audio, VGA, USB and Ethernet capability.
Intel's CRT screen-based all-in-one Web Terminal, meanwhile, is slated for summer distribution to DSL broadband markets.Intel affirmed it is committed to the SimplePC project with partner Microsoft. Otellini believes that the arrival of the reduced-cost Timna processor will help Intel retain its lead in consumer systems, accounting for about a third of all PCs sales this past year.
On the other end, Otellini said he is "pleased" that yields on fast Pentium IIIs have been better than expected, leading him to admit that "there is room for a notch or two" speed improvement in Pentium III above 1 GHz before Willamette systems become more dominant. Otellini positioned Willamette as "the most significant change in 32 bit processing since the advent of Pentium Pro" nearly five years ago.
By yearend, Intel will become the world's largest supplier of PC video graphics chips, wedding that capability to most of the 88x series of chip sets for holiday 2000 sales.
Intel R&D spending will hit $3.8 billion this year, up $700 million from 1999. Half of that total will go toward research of new servers and workstations. Copper will arrive in 2001, part of 0.13 micron migration. The company is looking at silicon germanium but with no perceived need for the material at this time.
While dodging specifics on future capital expenditures, Barrett stated that "a capacity crunch looms as the world's appetite for silicon outstrips present fab capacity." To do its part, Intel plans faster transitions from 0.18 micron (which will produce 90 percent of its chips by the end of the year) to 0.13 micron. That will be a departure from the previous transition in hiccups from 0.25 micron to 0.18 micron.
Intel sold on cells
As cell phones and PDAs exchange and weld functionality, Intel is looking forward to the huge silicon profits that category scores as it races to what market analysts believe will be 1.4 billion handsets by 2004. "Seventy percent of those handsets are silicon," noted Barrett. "That's a market we intend to supply."
Indeed, 3G phones may demand upward of 20 Mips of processing power, a requirement StrongARM family. Intel's November 1999 acquisition of DSP Communications is expected to produce more fully integrated silicon solutions for the Asian and European markets, which will benefit from 3G infrastructure ahead of the United States.
More details on SA2 and the Analog Devices DSP core for handhelds will be disclosed in the second half, according to Ron Smith, vice president of the Wireless Communications and Computing Group. Intel sees 3G cell phones yielding 384-kbit data-anywhere services and value in 2002 and 2-Mbit services by 2004, when some 700 million data-function handsets will join more than 1 billion cell phones with limited data-messaging capability.
Intel's key component entry started as flash memory, for which it now supplies the majority of the cell phone industry's need. That has expanded to 40-mW StrongARM wireless net phone solutions. "While the PC is far and away the preferred access device for the Internet today, cell phone Internet access will eventually surpass the PC," said Otellini.
In low-power mobile processing, Intel confirmed the forthcoming StrongARM2 will deliver up to 750 Mips of power while allowing operation at 150 Mips from a single AA battery. "We have the rights to extend SrongARM, and we will do so," Barrett said.
On the investment front, the Intel funding engine led by senior vice president Les Vadasz has become something of a platinum portfolio. "We invest money and resources in technologies and companies that are relevant to us," Vadasz said.
While Vadasz' highest priority is on funding established companies and startups whose products or mission favor the Intel Internet road map, the fund has exceeded the general market and is widely respected as a bellwether; many others invest in the companies Intel seeds, but usually at less favorable terms.
Intel also helps direct a $253 million Intel 64 fund, along with Compaq, Dell, HP, Silicon Graphics, NEC and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. Then there's the $200 million Intel Communications Fund. What was a $750 million fund in 125 companies two years ago with $300 million invested that year alone has swelled to more than $10 billion value in 425 companies, attracting $1.2 billion in 1999 alone. And what was essentially a 96 percent American portfolio in 1997 has stretched to where Asia and Europe represent a third of the tech portfolio.
Intel's own drive to speed e-commerce internally has born fruit. Chief financial officer Andy Bryant said $160 million will be spent on e-business inside Intel.
Business to business costs with Intel suppliers and customers has been slashed from $50 a transaction to under a dollar. Three thousand standard high volume (SHV) servers will be deployed for internal needs this year, capping a doubling trend that has lasted for three years. Intel will spend $100 million for new desktops and notebooks. The average Intel employee desk will bask in the glow of a gigahertz Pentium III machine. Intel claims that managers who are given notebooks systems contribute an extra 30 minutes of work each week.
Comms revenue near $3 billion
The Network Communication Group led by vice president Mark Christiansen, has doubled its revenue since the group emerged 24 months ago from the DEC acquisition. From home and office connectivity solutions where Intel claims slight leads over Diamond and 3Com, respectively Intel is working to serve up a rack full of the communication gear needed for driving Intenet commerce from enterprise to edge server.
Indeed, Intel is tracking how the latest Internet services are cramming 2000-plus instructions per packet, up from just 100 a few years ago. That kind of efficient routing requires lots of pure Mips, as Intel's Christiansen showed when he relieved traffic on two racks simply by communicating one comms link to an adjoining rack of eight-way Pentium Xeon server arrays.
In the "convergence" communication space, Christiansen showed how Intel's acquisition of Dialogic is paving the way for new data- and call-center approaches, powered by open-solution APIs and middleware.