IDF preview: Intel prepares to strut its stuff

Prepare yourself for the world's greatest geekfest. That's right, Intel Developer Forum San Francisco stylee starts on Tuesday and the 2008 instalment looks like being one of the best ever.

But what silicon wonders will the world's biggest computer chip maker reveal this time? The one dead certainty is full architectural and performance details for the new Core i7 processor. That's the chip formerly known as Nehalem, which is due to go on sale later this year.

It's also odds on that Intel will give us our first officially sanctioned chance to get our hands on this new wonderchip.

Core blimey, it's i7

Going on some insider information, as well as a private chip viewing we managed to wangle earlier this summer from a nameless source, we expect Core i7 to deliver approximately 30 per cent more performance than Intel's current top chip.

As for clock speeds, the smart money says Intel will this week unveil a top 3.2GHz launch frequency for Core i7 – the same as the fastest Core 2 processors available today.

Look out for the memory subsystem bandwidth numbers, too. With its triple-channel integrated controller, this chip packs mind boggling data throughput.

Silicon shrinkage

Further out on the CPU front, Intel is likely to confirm the 32nm shrink of Core i7 is still on for late next year. Likewise, there may be more details on the new Sandy Bridge architecture for 2010 and in turn its shrink to 22nm, codenamed Ivy Bridge and due in 2011, will be confirmed as on schedule and in good health.

Intel might even demo some 32nm processors up and running in one of the main keynotes.

Stepping back to Sandy Bridge again for a moment, Intel will be bigging up the architecture's floating point performance, which will take a massive leap forward thanks to a new double-width vector engine.

More to learn about Larrbee?

That's particularly interesting in the context of Larrabee, Intel's upcoming massively multi-core graphics co-processor. It's an absolute floating point monster.

The key point to note here is how Intel's bread and butter CPU architecture appears to be converging with the GPU-like Larrabee chip.

Having released a whole heap of detailed information on Larrabee in recent weeks, we've a feeling Intel has probably shot its load on that subject. Don't expect significant revelations on the Larrabee front from IDF. But there might just be a demo of the chip running.

Mobile machines

Moving to mobile, Intel should have plenty of newness to talk about despite the recent release of the Centrino 2 mobile platform. Demos and details of its upcoming quad-core mobile chips are a safe bet for starters.

Further info on its strategy for rolling out WiMax support on the Centrino 2 platform should also be forthcoming. By promising to combine the speed of landline-based broadband with the freedom of wireless, WiMax certainly promises a lot.

For now, it's of limited interest in Europe since Intel says WiMax will be restricted to North America initially. Here's hoping Intel reveals plans for a wider WiMax roll out this week.

A trickle more information is expected from Intel on Calpella, the next major revision of Centrino. The big news with Calpella, of course, is the use of the Nehalem architecture complete with integrated memory controller and graphics in a single chip.

That sort of chip consolidation might pay major dividends in terms of power consumption. We'll be keeping our scanners peeled for any efficiency claims Intel chooses to attach to Calpella.

The real pocket PC

Of course, with the introduction of Centrino Atom, Intel now has two mobile platforms. The Menlow Atom platform has only just been launched, but the significantly sexier Moorestown revision due next year should get an outing in San Francisco.

Intel has been suggesting Moorestown will deliver as much as a 10x reduction in power consumption. And that could mean the first smartphones powered by an x86 CPU will become possible.

Of course, Intel is much more than just chips these days. So IDF will be packed with updates on all kinds kit from the mundane to the magnificent.

Bigger, faster solid state drives, tinier transistors, optical interconnects, ray-tracing technology, perhaps a demo of a fully functional USB 3.0 interface – Intel will pack all this and more into two days of technological willy waving in sunny San Francisco.

TechRadar is on site in San Francisco so check back every day this week for full reports from the big keynotes as well as some behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt.


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