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IDF 2012 Shifts Focus to Cloud and Mobility

A wide range of processor types ranging from datacenter to smartphones should enable the accelerated growth of software applications for Intel-based devices.

Once again, the opening keynote at the Intel Developer’s Forum (IDF) was a visually dazzling event. But something was missing. To understand what, you need to compare this year’s event with the previous one.

Last year – at IDF 2011 – Intel CEO Paul Ortellini talked about the ongoing transformations in transistor technology. Mainly, he focused on the growing consumer market for embedded products. There, transformations have been based on the ever-increasing availability of transistors and device improvements, such as 3D structures and ever-decreasing process geometries.

This year – at IDF 2012 – Intel’s Architecture Group VP and GM,  David “Dadi” Perlmutter, explained how computing was shaping the future of datacenter cloud computing to device mobility. He showcased Intel’s ongoing efforts with developers to create applications from cloud to intelligent systems that would “touch everyone on Mother Earth.” Connecting global users in this way requires a wide spectrum of processor technology from the mobile-based Medfield “Atom” (millions of transistors) to the server-grade Xeon (billions of transistors).

Today, both of these devices are in production. Medfield-based smartphones are available in Asia and Europe. Xeon E5 servers are found in many of today’s datacenters.  Interestingly, during the post-keynote “question and answer” session, Perlmutter emphasized that the Xeon E5 wasn’t intended as a replacement to Intel’s high-performance-computing (HPC) iTanium processor.

A common thread between IDF 2011 and IDF 2012 is the Ultrabook. These very thin and low-power laptops are powered by Intel’s core processors like the Haswell. One of the more impressive demonstrations benchmarked the third-generation Core processors (32 nm), or Ivy Bridge, with the upcoming fourth-generation Core processors (22 nm), based on the Haswell microarchitecture (see Figure).

The Haswell architecture beats Ivy Bridge by about one-half in this graphic-intensive demonstration.

One device missing from this year’s event was the Claremont, an experimental prototype processor. This Near Threshold Voltage (NTV) processor uses a novel, ultra-low-voltage circuit powered by a postage-stamp-sized solar cell. The Claremont was demonstrated during the 2011 keynote. This class of processor operates close to the transistor’s turn-on or threshold voltage – hence the NTV name.

Several weeks ago, in mid-August 2012, Intel Labs presented an update of a Claremont-based processor prototype at the Hot Chips forum. The speaker talked about the energy benefits of NTV computing using Intel’s IA-32, 32-nm CMOS processor technology. An important goal for the Claremont prototype was to extend the processor’s dynamic performance – from NTV to higher, more common computing voltages (as in the smartphone-based Medfield) while maintaining energy efficiency.

This year’s keynote theme was about the wide range of products – from smartphones to datacenter servers – being connected by a spiral of software. Developers were encouraged to make a difference to the world by creating useful products based on this range of technology.

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