TECH NOUS Intel-ligent

Have you noticed the ridiculous prices on notebook computers recently? I’m sure I saw new laptops being advertised for less than $1000 in flyer that came to my letterbox. Such price was unheard of even 12 months ago.
It’s hardly surprising then that sales of desktop computers are dipping, as low prices lure buyers over to portable computers. According to analyst firm IDC, notebook sales rose to about 54,000 in the three months to the end of June, up more than 20,000 on sales during the second quarter of 2004. Desktop sales fell to 84,000 from 98,000 in the same period.
Big chunky desktop PCs may be on the way out – powerful new notebooks are taking over, and much of the switch can be attributed to smart new technologies which are taking away many of the frustrations traditionally associated with notebooks.
Intel, the world’s largest manufacturer of computer processors, unveiled many of its new mobile-platform technology initiatives at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), held in San Francisco in late August. Graham Tucker, technical manager Intel architecture, highlighted many of these during his recent visit to Microsoft’s TechEd conference held at the SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland.
The new capabilities planned for Intel’s next-generation mobile platform (code-named Napa), the follow-on from its highly successful Centrino mobile platform, are all about energy efficiency and greater performance – lower power consumption plus improved graphics and wireless capabilities.
In the quest to satisfy the insatiable demand for computing power, Intel has announced an agreement with Matsushita Battery Industrial to develop more powerful battery technology to support the vision for ‘all-day computing’ on future notebooks.
“The goal is the eight-hour battery,” says Tucker. “In 2003 the Centrino platform represented big step-up from two to four hours, but the dual-core processors and new wireless cards will next year significantly boost battery life again.”
Other announcements that came out of the IDF include new kind of PC due to premiere in homes early next year based on Intel’s Viiv (rhymes with ‘five’) technology which the company says is “designed to enrich consumers’ enjoyment of digital entertainment”.
Working with number of consumer electronics devices, online services and software (including movies, music, photos and games) Viiv is designed from the ground up for the digital home and will help usher in new wave of entertainment choices.
Viiv-based systems will come in range of forms – from small, sleek consumer electronic-type designs (much like DVD player), to more traditional desktop or tower designs. You’ll be able to watch movie or play game while downloading the latest music, all from one system using remote control.
A feature called Intel Quick Resume Technology will allow PCs to be quickly turned on and off; and an optional TV tuner card will allow you to record, pause and rewind live TV programmes, and store them on the hard drive for later viewing. Specially-designed software will also make it easier to set up home network.
It’s nice to see that Intel is thinking about the needs of developing countries too. At the IDF it unveiled the ‘community computer’ – rugged PC designed specifically for entire communities and villages in rural and remote areas, and with harsh climates.
This computer can use standard car battery as back-up energy supply in case electricity supply is sporadic, and it can operate in temperatures exceeding 38 degrees Celsius. It also has special screens and filters to reduce the amount of dust and insects that might enter the box and cause reliability problems.
Dual and multi-core processors to be rolled out in notebooks next year will clearly boost what Tucker calls “performance per watt”. Another development we can expect to see in 2006 is new ‘ultra wideband’ technology that essentially equals wireless USB.
Other technologies allow real-time video editing; or, in the event of hard drive failing, to slot in another drive and rebuild automatically.
And how about the ability to run multiple operating systems on the same hardware? Or the capability to enable IT people to ‘cordon off’ section of the computing platform for maintenance, to troubleshoot or download software without interrupting the PC’s functions?
Intel’s next generation platform makes all this possible.
The company is also involved in trials around the world (including Australia) to test the feasibility of WiMAX networks – wireless broadband that has the potential to impact on the way we all work and interact.
What we’re witnessing is the beginning of what Intel calls “mobility ubiquity”.

Glenn Baker is regular contributor to Management. [email protected]

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