Intel's Architecture Shift Could Be a Shaky Platform

By Loyd Case  |  Print this article Print


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Opinion: Intel's getting ready to roll out a new architecture, and will finally offer a common platform for desktops, laptops and servers. Is Intel trying to build another Camry, or will it end up with just another Yugo?

It's hard to argue with success. Take a look at Toyota, for example, which builds roughly a zillion different car models (or so it seems) based on the Camry platform.

There's the Camry itself, the Avalon, the Highlander SUV, the Lexus ES300 and the Solara. Each drives just a little differently, but each also builds on a solid automotive design foundation.

Perhaps more by accident than strategic planning, Intel created a runaway success with its Centrino mobile platform.

In fact, Centrino was so successful, it's clearly starting to color the decision making at Intel.

Centrino was a bright spot at Intel when the updated Pentium 4, code-named Prescott, came up short on performance and long on thermal output.

I've even heard the term "Desktrino" emanate from the mouth of one Intel employee.

The company has always been stronger at marketing than some pundits believe, but at its heart, it's been an engineering-driven company. But that seems to be slowly shifting.

Whatever Intel's upcoming new architecture offers in terms of technical accomplishments, it's also looking like Intel will be wrapping a lot of marketing bubble wrap around it.

The whole "platform" aspect involves not just CPUs, but core logic, networking, security and other building blocks, in an effort to extend the Centrino concept. Will it work? Who knows? To paraphrase that great philosopher Yoda, always in motion, the future.

It's good that Intel is tacitly acknowledging that the P6 architecture was a good one, and will be incorporating some of those ideas into Merom.

It will be interesting to see what new ideas are incorporated. Intel's track record in new processors' architectures hasn't been all that stellar lately, given the problem-plagued Prescott core and the less-than-rousing success of Itanium.

Intel really needs to hit a home run on the fundamental architecture itself, especially if it's betting on a "one-size-fits-all" platform strategy.

Read more here about Intel's plans for a new processor architecture.

If the CPU architecture itself proves anemic, it won't matter how good the memory controller or networking subsystem is.

If Intel's new platform falters, it won't have a convenient Centrino product to fall back on.

So it really is "bet the farm" time in Santa Clara. And with the AMD lawsuit and multiple national jurisdictions investigating Intel's business practices, Intel can't afford to be overly aggressive on the sales front.

Still, there are a lot of smart architects and engineers churning away on this, and looming in the background is Intel's manufacturing prowess.

And I'm sure that the production guys, still smarting from the less-than-stellar 90nm Prescott conversion, want to prove their mettle as well.

Meanwhile, plucky AMD is pushing pretty hard, though not quite firing on all cylinders. For one thing, AMD lacks an ultra low voltage solution for ultralight laptops.

But its Alchemy embedded processors are garnering design wins in some market segments, though it doesn't really go head to head with Intel's Xscale, giving AMD additional growth in a key area.

If intense competition creates clarity of purpose, then Intel should be seeing the world in perfect focus.

Whether that means that the company can actually respond to the competition is a different issue. We'll find out in 2006.

Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.

Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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