Intel Outlines a PC Future of Ultrabooks, 'Perceptual Computing'

At IDF, officials said the next-generation "Haswell" chip architecture will bring with it even thinner and lighter Ultrabooks and hybrid PCs.

Intel executives have always dismissed the idea of a "post-PC era," which isn't a surprise given that its processors are found in some 90 percent of desktops and notebooks and that PCs continue to be a significant part of the company's revenues.

Officials like CEO Paul Otellini have noted that while worldwide sales may be slowing, there are still hundreds of millions of sold every year. They also have said that tablets and smartphones-which analysts say are the key culprits behind the sluggish PC sales in recent quarters-are complementary devices to PCs, and that there is still a lot of innovation to be done around notebooks that will keep them in demand.

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week, Intel executives outlined what they see as the future of PCs-one that is based on its Ultrabooks and Intel-powered convertible systems, that is very mobile and that is infused with intelligence in the machines themselves.

In particular, they began to fill out the details of its upcoming "Haswell" chip architecture that will be the basis of Core processors that will hit the market next year. The architecture promises huge performance and energy efficiency gains over the current "Ivy Bridge" chips, and will lead the way to even lighter and smaller Ultrabooks and convertibles-or hybrid PCs-which can be quickly configured into a tablet or more traditional notebook. With its power-efficiency improvements, new systems powered by the Haswell-based chips will offer significantly longer battery life, they said.

"The 4th generation Intel Core processor family and our new line of low-power processors will usher in an era of unprecedented innovation in mobile computing," Dadi Perlmutter, executive VP and GM of Intel Architecture Group, said in a statement before his keynote address at IDF Sept. 11. "Our focus to deliver even lower power with the great performance that our processors are known for is as fundamentally significant as when we shifted our development focus beyond sheer processor speed in 2001. As a result, you'll see our customers delivering sleek and cool convertible designs, as well as radical breakthrough experiences across a growing spectrum of mobile devices."

Haswell will bring with it such new capabilities as Intel high-definition graphics support, new hardware-based security features and faster encryption, and chips that can run as low as 10 watts, which executives said will mean thinner and lighter Ultrabooks and hybrid PS that will have double the battery life of current systems based on Ivy Bridge chips.

Intel has been making aggressive moves to gain a foothold in the booming mobile computing space, and has been pushing Ultrabooks-which offer the capabilities of traditional notebooks with features found in tablets-to not only help with that effort, but also as a way of reinvigorating the stagnant PC market. IDC analysts believe both Ultrabooks and the release next month of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system could do just that.

Jay Chou, a senior research analyst at IDC, said in a report last month that "factors such as Windows 8 coupled with Ultrabooks could present a positive turn of events next year, but it also faces some initial hurdles, chief of which is that buyers must acclimate themselves to an operating system that is a dramatic departure from existing PC paradigms. The PC ecosystem faces some work to properly educate the market."

At IDF, Intel executives said that there currently are more than 140 Ultrabook designs in the works, more than half of which are based on the current 22-nanometer Ivy Bridge chips. Haswell will bring more designs.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research, said in a Sept. 12 report that Haswell could result in Ultrabooks and convertible designs that will bridge the traditional PC and the mobile device markets.

"In essence, those products will allow consumers and business users to have it all-light weight, all day battery life, full-blown PC performance and stylish designs-without compromise," King wrote.

With its high performance and graphics capabilities, Haswell chips also will be a key technology in Intel's "perceptual computing" scenario, where intelligent devices will take on human-like sensory capabilities to perceive the desires and intentions of their users, he said. At IDF, Intel also released its Perceptual Computing Software Development Kit (SDK) to encourage developers to create hardware and software that will help build the perceptual computing ecosystem with such capabilities as gesture interaction and facial and voice recognition to future Core-based Ultrabooks and PCs.

Along that line, Intel announced a partnership with Nuance to bring its Dragon voice recognition software to Ultrabooks. Intel executives showed off an Ultrabook running the Nuance Dragon Assistant Beta optimized for Core processors. Dell will make the Nuance software available later this year on its XPS13 Ultrabook.

The Perceptual Computing SDK will be available early next year.

During IDF, Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, reporteldy told journalists and analysts that over the next 12 months, Ultrabooks would offer such features as touch, with Windows 8, wireless charging, voice recognition-as with the Nuance software-and gesture recognition.

Pund-IT's King said Intel seems to be on the right track with its perceptual computing efforts.

"Intel's promotion of Perceptual Computing might be seen as an elemental departure from its traditional Personal Computing roots," he wrote. "But it could also be considered to enable new forms of computing that are more truly responsive, individual and personalized than any-thing ever seen before."