Next week, Intel Corp. will announce the successor to Serial ATA as well as a renewed push into the server chipset market, Intel executives said.
The announcements will be made at the Intel Developer Forum, Intels traditional opportunity to guide, encourage, and in some cases dictate the direction of the PC and related platforms. The four-day event will be held in San Franciscos Moscone Center for the first time; Intel officials promised it to be the most technically-oriented IDF ever.
This year, IDFs theme will be "advancing the digital universe", building on the "architecting the digital universe" message of last falls IDF—and also a result of Intel releasing key products, such as its Itanium processor and its first Xscale embedded processors, over the past few months.
"Weve come a long way, but theres a lot still to be done," said Steve Brown, the worldwide manager of Intels IDF conferences. Following the San Francisco event, Intel will hold local versions of the IDF in Japan, Taiwan, mainland China, India, and Germany over the next few months.
Key announcements to be made will likely include the Plumas server chipset, according to sources and other reports, the disclosure of the Serial ATA II specification, the version 1.0 specification of the 3GIO/Arapahoe specification, new networking and I/O embedded processors, and an update on an initiave to reduce power across the mobile platform. As the IDF theme suggests, attendees will also hear more details of the McKinley processor as it moves forward to volume production and a recap of the recent launch of the Xscale embedded processors.
As usual, Intel chief executive Craig Barrett will open the Developer Forum with a technology version of the "state of the union" address. "Craigs message before has been that you innovate your way out of a slowdown," said Pat Gelsinger, chief technology officer of the Intels Corporate Technology Group in Santa Clara, Calif. "Now its sort of, okay, how did we go against that direction.
"I dont think youll be seeing him make any Federal Reserve-type statements," on whether the industry is recovering from an economic downturn, Gelsinger added. "There are still elements of optimism and pessimism in the industry."
Although the majority of Intels customers are still purchasing components to manufacture PCs, Intel has been aggressively moving into the server industry for several years. There, Intels margins on its Xeon and Itanium microprocessors are thought to be several times those for the Pentium 4, and it has convinced customers like Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer to wind down their own in-house microprocessor initiatives and adopt the Xeon and Itanium platforms.
A key part of Intels business, however, has been chipsets. Stability problems in the Memory Repeater Hub –the counterpart of the Memory Controller Hub of the Intel 820 chipset, later recalled—caused server manufacturers to turn to ServerWorks, a rival chipset manufacturer now owned by Broadcom Corp.
At the IDF, Intel will likely either announce or provide more details of Plumas. The chipset should enable a single- processor server with 256 Mbytes of memory or a range of two-way systems with up to 16 Gbytes of memory, according to previous statements from Intel executives. The chipset should also connect to Infiniband components, the switched-fabric interconnect scheme Intel helped develop.
"Well be strongly back in the server chipset space," Gelsinger said. "A large segment of our middle was relying on Serverworks…well be doing much more of the volume server space on Intel roadmaps."
PC enthusiasts will want to listen to speeches given Wednesday by Louis Burns, vice-president and general manager of Intels Platform Products Group and Anand Chandrasekher, who serves a dual role as vice-president of the Intel Architecture Group and general manager of the Mobile Platforms Group at Intel. Burns will give an update on 3GIO, the successor to desktop PCI; since the specification is being handled by the PCI SIG, Gelsinger could not guarantee that the specification would be ratified by the show, but it is likely. Chandrasekher will also present an update on the next-generation Banias processor, which will integrate communications capabilities and has been designed exclusively for mobile processing.
According to Gelsinger, the Serial ATA II specification will be announced Monday during the show. The specification will add features to the Serial ATA specification, which is designed to replace parallel ATA next year with a serial ATA cable with data rates up to 150 Mbytes/s. Serial ATA II is expected to bump this to 300 Mbytes/s as well as address network storage and possibly add low-end RAID capability, but leave high-end capabilities to Serial Attached SCSI, Gelsinger said.
AGP 8X will also be discussed, as well as a small discussion on a roadmap for main memory.
In addition, Intel has begun to heavily focus on communications. Since a processor is worthless without data to act upon, Intel has tried to drive the 802.11a wireless protocol as well as wired initiatives such as gigabit Ethernet. A day before the PC discussions on Tuesday, Sean Maloney, executive vice-president in charge of the Intel Communications Group, will discuss the companys plans in that space, which include a new I/O processor promised to be a "quantum leap" ahead in performance.
"When we talk about Intel and communications, its directly complementary to what we do," said Anthony Ambrose, director of marketing for the Intel Communications Group. "It completes the platform."
Intel will push companies to move to gigabit Ethernet by discussing the merits of the technology, and help companies deal with "dual-band" wireless, or the mixture of 802.11a and 802.11b wireless technologies, Ambrose said. Intel does not officially support 802.11g, a hybrid specification proposed by Intersil Corp.
How critically Intel views wireless was demonstrated by Gelsinger, who interrupted Ambrose to ensure that the tracks would address quality-of-service issues, and not just the speed bump. "To me, there are far more critical things with WiFi, security, and quality of service," Gelsinger said.
Gelsinger himself will round out the conference on Thursday with a presentation on Intels research efforts. Briefly, Gelsinger will discuss silicon radios, or wireless communication devices made from CMOS silicon; silicon photonics, or optical chip interconnects; and ad-hoc networks, defined as a collection of autonomous nodes or terminals that communicate with each other by forming a multihop radio network and maintaining connectivity in a decentralized manner.
Intel has a goal of attracting 4,000 people to the San Francisco IDF. "Were continuing to invest heavily in this," Brown said. "We know its good to spend some time with the industry."