Intel charts course to WiMax system-on-a-chip

SAN FRANCISCO — The release of its first dual-core processors for servers and desktops are months away, but Intel is already preparing to bring the one-two punch approach to its Centrino line of mobile chips as well.


told the Intel Developer Forum Wednesday that Intel’s next Centrino bundle, code-named Sonoma, will be followed by a platform code-named “”Napa”” which will include a dual-core mobile processor called “”Yonah”” based on its 65-nanometer process technology. The platform will also include a new integrated graphics chipset codenamed “”Calistoga,”” and next generation Intel wireless solution code-named “”Golan.””

Anad Chandrasekher, vice-president of Intel’s Mobile Platforms Group, said the dual-core Yonah would include multi-threading capabilities that could help solve several key problems in the digital office. Geographically dispersed teams, for example, could make use of Yonah to run conferencing applications along with sophisticated analytics software from various locations. Consumers, meanwhile, could use the chip to play a game on their laptop while simultaneously downloading music files.

Dual-core mobile chips would be welcomed by Flick Software, a Canadian developer based in Ottawa. Flick offers a product called the Mobile Interactive Guide, which is used to create multimedia experiences on handhelds for clients like the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Paul Bennett, Flick’s director of handheld solutions, is not attending IDF but via telephone said the additional horsepower Yonah promises would go over well with his users.

“”Whenever you’re dealing with multimedia you’ve got a lot of data to move around,”” he said, adding that increasing screen sizes on mobile products means more pixels to display, which also takes up computing power. “”You can deal with that through a graphics chip or with an advanced CPU. It’s also a situation where you’re just not displaying information to the user. You also have to display information on the back-end systems.””

Yonah doesn’t have a launch date, but its predecessor, Sonoma, should be available in the first quarter of next year, Chandrasekher said. The platform will include an Intel Pentium M processor with a faster, 533 MHz front-side bus and a chipset code-named “”Alviso,”” along with the newly released Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG network connection. Sonoma’s key selling feature will be a hands-free virtual private network capability, which was jointly developed with help from Cisco, CheckPoint and Nortel Networks. “”We promised this last year, and we’re delivering it,”” Chandrasekher said.

This year’s IDF features several panels and tutorials surrounding WiMax, an emerging wireless standard that promises to provide broadband connectivity at DSL speeds across long distances. In his opening keynote speech Tuesday, Intel president Paul Ottelini unveiled “”Rosedale,”” the company’s first “”system-on-a-chip”” design for cost-effective customer premise equipment (CPE) supporting the IEEE 802.16-2004 WiMax specification.

Howard Bubb, vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Communications Infrastructure Group, said the chipmaker will be bringing out WiMax multimedia instructions within the next two years, and products that would offer an integrated connection between two WiMax flavours, 802.16d and 802.16e.

Bennett said companies like Flick, who also have clients with outdoor exhibits, could benefit from WiMax’s potential. “”We’ve just begun to hear about that in the last couple of months, and we’re not quite sure yet how we’re going to apply it,”” he said, “”but the improved distances could mean fewer access points.””

Intel on Wednesday also committed to helping extend battery life on mobile products like notebooks to eight hours by 2010. Through what it’s calling a Battery Life Optimization Program, Chandrasekher said Intel will be sharing with the developer community everything it has learned about power management in order to speed the development of longer-life devices.

“”This is very hard to do,”” Chandrasekher admitted. “”There is a strong desire to go beyond the current five hours.””

Chandrasekher said possible solutions include the adoption of lithium-polymer batteries being offered by a company called Pionics, which reduces extra space within the battery to increase capacity. Another firm, called Zinc Alkaline, is using a combination of zinc and plastic to reduce oxide formation and increase a battery’s charge. Intel is keeping its eye on both chemical processes while continuing to develop system-level solutions like the display power management functions in its chip set and low-power panels, Chandrasekher said.

IDF 2004 continues through Thursday.

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