CES 2011 trend: Single-die chips

On Monday, just a couple of days before the International Consumer Electronics Show for the year 2011 takes place, chipmaker Intel revealed the specs for its long-awaited second generation Core i3, i5, and i7 processors and the related chipset family code named "Sandy Bridge." Intel's 32nm process chips will be the replacement for the Nehalem architecture that has been in use since 2008.

The most noteworthy qualities of the Intel Core 2011 chips come from their new construction, which integrates the CPU, GPU, and a multi-purpose I/O controller on the same little piece of silicon. What makes this especially interesting is that early testers of the chips say the integrated graphics processor (called either HD 2000 or HD 3000) can actually outperform certain low-level discrete graphics cards. Intel today highlighted the chips' graphical capabilites with "Intel Clear Video HD" for high def, and "Intel InTru 3D" for stereoscopic Blu-Ray playback.

The new chips also utilize Intel's Hyperthreading and Turbo Boost technologies to beef up processor performance, but ultimately, it's not so much about an increase in sheer number crunching, but about a decrease in size and power consumption.

The first notebooks offering Sandy Bridge chips were already revealed by PC manufacturers such as Asus and Acer, but Intel says over 500 different PCs equipped with Core 2011 processors will be shown off at CES 2011 this week.

Intel's chief competitor in the PC processor space, AMD, will also be officially launching its first chips combining CPU and GPU in a single die called Fusion APU (Accelerated Processing Unit.) The first platform in its Fusion family is codenamed "Brazos," and the company says more than 100 PCs running the platform will be on display at CES 2011 this week.

Brazos is specifically designed to be used in low-power mobile computing situations, and has a cousin based on the G-series platform called "eBrazos", which is designed for embedded systems.

"AMD is ushering in a new era of personal computing, and our industry partners are ready to take advantage of the first ever AMD Fusion APU," Chris Cloran, VP and GM of AMD's Computing Solutions Group said in December. "By combining the processing of the CPU with the GPU on a single energy efficient chip, we believe their customers can take advantage of better price/performance, superior 1080p HD playback and small form factors for innovative designs."

This year, the mega-hyped area for CES 2011 isn't expected to be in personal computers, no matter how small and mobile they may be (and how much better the chips are,) It's expected to be in consumer tablets.

On Twitter this afternoon, Linley Group Senior Analyst Kevin Krewell said, "Ironic note of the day: Intel launches its best microprocessor ever and yet stock is down because analysts say it's missing tablet market."

There will be no shortage of tablet news this year, but I'm going to devote some special time to talking with AMD and Intel at CES this week to discuss these new platforms and see what we have to look forward to in PCs this year.

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