Intel CEO looks toward a connected future

Scott Fulton, BetaNews: Moore's Law continues to mandate that the transitor must be shrunken, as Intel CEO Paul Otellini repeated today during his evening keynote speech at CES. But had it not been for the high-k-plus-metal-gate refinement process that Intel unveiled almost a year ago, Otellini said, Moore's Law could have been stopped dead in its tracks.

Paul Otellini, CEO, Intel: Ten years ago, our scientists identified a major problem in shrinking transistors. As we made the transistors smaller, we found that they leaked more current, they created heat and power consumption problems at the die level and at the device level. Moore's Law might have come to an end by now.

However, our engineers found new techniques, a new recipe for making transistors, using what we call a high-k/metal-gate structure. To this structure, we added the element hafnium to our transistor recipe for the first time. This combination gives us a technology that has a very wide range of options. We can deliver 38% more performance at the transistor level for the same power as the prior generation, or we can cut the power in half and have the same performance as the prior generation, giving us the ability to scale our devices for a wide variety of computer and communications needs.

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Scott Fulton: It actually wasn't much of a hardware demo in the end -- after all, this was CES, not IDF. Earlier in the day, Intel did break some news today with the rollout -- on schedule -- of 16 of its latest 45 nm Penryn architecture processors, including quad-core, for its Centrino mobile architecture.

But listening over the speech again, Otellini didn't even use the word "quad-core" -- one of his partners uttered it first. It wasn't a speech to underscore Intel's perceived superiority in CPUs, but rather to demonstrate its contribution to this year's big CES theme, connectivity.

Tim Conneally, BetaNews: To that end, Scott, Otellini showed his company's "Canmore" system-on-a-chip architecture to bring together both Internet connectivity and audio/video processing, in a chip that can be embedded in both DTVs and STBs, as soon as this year.

Paul Otellini: We can use all these transistors to integrate new functions onto the same chip. In the industry, that's called "system-on-chip" technology, or SoC. For the consumer electronics industry, we've designed a specialized SoC chip. To do this, we began with a dedicated audio and video decode system that allows us to [get] the chip to play 1080p video and 7.1 surround sound. We added to that chip [a] high-performance Intel architecture microprocessor core. We added to that a 3D graphics unit for cool user interfaces and online games, and we added to that technologies to enable broadcast and multicast television.

Canmore is our first SoC for consumer electronics devices. Think of this as one single chip that is both a CE system and an Internet computer on a single chip.

Scott Fulton: Canmore puts Intel in a position of competing with companies like Broadcom, which already have well-established inroads for providing SoCs to STB manufacturers, display makers, and OEMs.

Tim Conneally: Though almost all of the later demos in the keynote were mockups, they were shown under the caveat that Moore's Law renders them very close to a reality.

One such demo included a connected device, presumably a phone, that acted as a translator, navigator, and information portal for a traveler in Beijing, China. English translations were superimposed over live-captured chinese signs on the device's screen, then it acted as an interpreter, translating an English and Mandarin speaker's dialogue, allowing an almost seamless exchange.

For a device like that to become a reality, Otellini said, four challenges must be overcome. Silicon needs to become more powerful and energy efficient, high-speed connectivity needs to be more widespread, contextuality needs to improve in Internet content, and user interfaces need to be more naturally linked to the tasks they perform.

Otellini cited the Nintendo Wii's controller as an example of a more natural user interface, spoke highly of his support for WiMAX to supply the high-speed connective infrastructure.

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