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Intel, the world's largest semiconductor company, will signal next week the onset of a new technology cycle that will determine the winners and losers in the computer industry in the second half of the decade.

The company's first new-generation chip architecture in five years will be launched in the second half of 2006, coinciding with the release of Microsoft's new operating system Vista and the next major PC buying cycle.

“This will likely be the biggest ramp in PCs this decade, much like what Windows 95 did for the last decade,” says market consultant Rob Enderle. “This is Intel's attempt to exit this cycle as the dominant vendor. It can be the same kind of opportunity for PC manufacturers by 2008, Dell might not be on top any more.”

Intel already provides the processors for four out of every five PCs sold. But it has allowed its closest rival, Advanced Micro Devices, to grab a technological edge over the past two years in being first to announce faster chips and a move from 32 to 64-bit desktop computing.

Paul Otellini, Intel chief executive since May, will unveil to next week's developer conference an architecture for high performance, energy efficient, multi-core processors. The emphasis has changed from increasing speed to reducing power and heat and producing better performance per watt.

“It's going to save energy from notebook computers to the racks of servers that need large amounts of power and have become a huge cost, so it's a very welcome approach,” says Richard Doherty, research director at the Envisioneering group.

Intel is also gearing itself up for the holy grail of Windows computing a long-promised feature known as instant-on that would allow computers to be turned on without the familiar long “boot” process.

Intel's new architecture should be able to virtually shut down and then quickly awake different cores of the processor.

“I've seen thermal camera images where you can see one core almost go to sleep,” says Mr Doherty.

Bill Calder of Intel confirms: “Vista will benefit from the track we are on with our microprocessors.”

The new chips will succeed the Pentium 4, launched in November 2000, and be the natural successors to the Pentium M, a notebook processor that tackled the problems of heat and power created by faster chips. The new architecture has not yet been named.

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