Intel, with its Atom processor platform, was an early proponent of the netbook when the computer form factor first hit the market several years ago, and in 2009 introduced what officials said was a new server category-the micro server-powered by its low-end Xeon and Atom chips.
Now executives with the giant chip maker are promoting a new computing segment, the "ultrabook," thin and light devices that they say combine the performance and capabilities of traditional notebooks with features found in the popular tablets, such as high responsiveness and-according to an Intel spokesperson-eventually touch capabilities. Such devices will be powered by Intel's increasingly energy-efficient Core processors, the executives say.
Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice president and the newly appointed head of the chip maker's China business, introduced the ultrabook idea during his keynote speech May 31 at the Computex 2011 show in Taiwan. Along with the ultrabook, Maloney talked about Intel's acceleration of the Atom road map and reiterated the vendor's vision of federated clouds-both private and public-and Intel's role in cloud computing environments.
Maloney's keynote comes as Intel continues its aggressive push into the mobile device market-in particular, tablets and smartphones-that is dominated by highly energy-efficient chips based on designs from ARM Holdings and built by the likes of Samsung, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Intel is still making a lot of money from its traditional server and PC businesses, but the growing popularity of mobile devices offers an opportunity for Intel to expand its reach.
Intel's already begun that push. In April, the vendor rolled out its Atom Z670 "Oak Trail" platform, designed for such devices as tablets. Officials said they expect 35 system designs based on Oak Trail to hit the market this year. In addition, they have begun talking about the next Atom version, a 32-nanometer design dubbed "Cedar Trail." At Computex, Maloney showed off more than 10 tablets running Oak Trail.
Earlier this month, Intel unveiled a new 3D transistor technology called Tri-Gate, which executives said will ramp up the performance of its shrinking processors while driving down power consumption, key attributes for chips in tablets and smartphones and the areas that Intel will need to improve upon to compete with ARM designs. According to Intel, the Tri-Gate technology will enable 37 percent better performance than current 32-nm chips and 50 percent power reduction.
The ultrabook-officials envision the systems coming in at less than 0.8 inches thick and at prices less than $1,000-fits in with Intel's growing mobile ambitions. By the end of 2012, Maloney said he expects that 40 percent of notebooks shipped will fall into this ultrabook category. To kick this off, Intel at Computex unveiled the latest of the company's 2nd Generation Core processors, which will find themselves in products in time for the 2011 holiday season.
On stage at Computex, Maloney was joined by Asus Chairman Jonney Shih, who showed off that company's new UX21 ultrabook based on the latest Core chips.
"At Asus, we are very much aligned with Intel's vision of ultrabook," Shih said in a statement before the keynote address. "Our customers are demanding an uncompromised computing experience in a lightweight, highly portable design that responds to their needs quickly. Transforming the PC into an ultra-thin, ultra-responsive device will change the way people interact with their PC."
The next step in driving the ultrabook initiative will be the next generation of Intel's "Sandy Bridge" architecture, dubbed "Ivy Bridge," which will be the first chips to feature the Tri-Gate transistor technology. The 22-nm Ivy Bridge chips will begin appearing in PCs and servers in the first half of 2012. The processors will begin appear in other devices-including tablets and smartphones-after that, though Intel officials have not been more specific.
In 2013, Intel will unveil "Haswell," the follow-on to Ivy Bridge, which will further Intel's ultrabook push by significantly ramping up the energy efficiency. Intel officials said Haswell will reduce processor power consumption by half of what it is today.
Maloney also talked about Intel's plans to accelerate the development of the Atom platform, including offering a new generation of the chips every year, a move he said will result in reduced transistor leakage, lower power consumption and more transistors on the chips, all of which will drive more powerful devices-including smartphones, tablets and netbook-with more features and better battery life.
The Cedar Trail Atom platform also will drive ultra-thin designs with such features as Intel's Rapid Start for fast resume capabilities, Smart Connect technology that always updates the system, and Wireless Display and PC Synch offerings, which enable users to wirelessly update and synchronize documents. It also will offer more than 10 hours of battery life and will support Microsoft Windows, Google Chrome and MeeGo, the open-source operating system developed by Intel in conjunction with Nokia.
In addition, Maloney talked about "Medfield," a 32-nm platform specifically targeting smartphones and tablets and optimized for low power and high performance. Maloney showed off a tablet running Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" OS. Intel officials expect the first Medfield-powered tablets to hit the market in the first half of 2012, running both Android and MeeGo. Medfield will enable system designs that are thinner than 9 millimeters and weigh less than 1.5 pounds.
Regarding the cloud, Maloney noted that Intel will benefit from the demand. He estimated that one new Intel-based server will be needed for every 600 or so new smartphones or 122 new tablets connecting to the Internet.
Maloney also talked about Intel's Cloud 2015 vision, which includes federated clouds that enable enterprises to move data safely across public and private clouds, automated networks that enable users to move workloads between servers in the data center, and device-aware clouds to understand types of applications, commands and processing.