Intel Tries the Slow and Steady Approach

Reporter's Notebook: The 2007 IDF produced a steady stream of road map updates-just the way Intel wanted it.

SAN FRANCISCO—By the time the 2007 Intel Developer Forum ended here Sept. 20, two things were certain: Intel has no shortage of code names for its upcoming product lines, and the company kept any future surprises under wraps.

That seems to be the way Intel wanted it.

This years show had plenty of technology updates for the IT community and the chip makers numerous customers—the launch of 45-nanometer processors in November, the continuing development of the companys Nehalem microarchitecture, the push toward 32-nm, a growing portfolio of chips for mobile and ultra portable devices—but compared to the 2006 IDF, this years conference remained subdued.

Instead, starting with CEO Paul Otellinis opening keynote, executive after executive hammered home the fact that Intels road map, chip architecture and manufacturing were all rolling along on schedule and that system vendors could remain confident that the Santa Clara, Calif., company would deliver the goods on time.

Even the presence of Gordon Moore, Intels co-founder, seemed to convey the message that the company had returned to its roots of delivering products on time and that any past road map problems were behind it.

One reason the 2007 IDF lacked many "wow" moments can be traced back to Intels "tick-tock" model, which calls for manufacturing shrinks in odd-numbered years with new microarchitecture in even-numbered ones. This meant that the 2007 conference was more of a "tick IDF" as opposed to a "tock IDF," according to one analyst.


Read more here about Intels enterprise plans.

Another reason Intel might have toned down the 2007 IDF is the current market battle with Advanced Micro Devices. In the past 18 months, Intel has recovered from the stumbles that allowed AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., to take away some of its market share, and executives used the show to reinforce the steadiness and reliability of its road map.

During the show, AMD was hardly mentioned.

One exception happened during a question-and-answer session following Otellinis keynote. He was asked about AMDs announcement of a triple-core desktop processor. Without missing a beat, Otellini quipped that unlike his rivals processors, "at least all of our cores work." (Several industry analysts believe that the tri-core AMD chip is just a quad-core processor with one core shut off.)

Not to be outdone, AMD took a shot at Intels announcement that its Nehalem chip would include a new technology called QuickPath Interconnect, which includes an integrated memory controller. AMD pointed out that its first Opteron processor, released four years ago, has been using an integrated memory controller and Intel has now decided to catch up.

Still, the 2007 IDF seemed to have left a positive impression on several analysts.

"Overall, the tone remained positive," Doug Freedman, an analyst with American Technology Research, wrote in a first-day report to investors. "Intel is executing well on its tick-tock, two-year cadence with opportunities to release next-generation platforms at leading edge nodes at a more rapid pace than AMD for the foreseeable future."

There are some questions that Intel will have to answer in the coming months.

Although the company offered its own comparisons between its 45-nm Penryn processor and AMDs quad-core Opteron chip, which is produced on a 65-nm process, the company has not released the full range of clock speeds and other performance indicators.

Intel also announced that its Nehalem architecture, which will scale from one to eight cores and include the integrated memory controller, should arrive in 2008. The company did not delve into many performance details about this architecture, nor did it release many specifics on Silverthorne, another 45-nm processor due out next year, which should allow the company to enter the ultra portable market and provide new platforms for MIDs (mobile Internet devices).

To add to the array of product names, Otellini also talked briefly about the companys "Larrabee" technology, which will likely target a wide range of markets, such as supercomputing, with Intel offering a chip with integrated graphics. Again, details were sparse, but the fact that Larrabee, a technology not due until 2009, was mentioned at all seemed to indicate the companys confidence in delivering the product.

All the more reason customers and industry watchers can look forward to a "tock IDF" next year.


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