Intel has always been pushing technological limits year after year with faster, lower power and highly integrated microprocessors. Critics have claimed how it would be the end of the road for Moore's Law but Intel has proven these skeptics wrong with every technological node. The end is nowhere in sight, especially not with the latest 22nm 3D tri-gate transistor technology which has just begun its production ramp-up.
But with all these great silicon manufacturing prowess, Intel has to look into how they can put all these high performance transistors to good use. Certainly, making faster and more efficient chips is on the top of their agenda, but that's just part of it.
For a while now, Intel has talked a lot about changing their research and development methodology. In the past, they used to build the chip first and then let developers build applications to around new capabilities offered by Intel processors. In the recent years, they've started to adopt a different approach. They are now looking at what kind of user experience they should first build into new platforms and then designing their silicon based on new design requirements and usage models.
This entirely different approach pretty much sums up what will happen with the upcoming 4th generation Intel Core processor which carries the codename Haswell.
At Intel Developer Forum earlier today, Dadi Perlmutter said during his keynote that the upcoming 4th generation processor will be built from the ground up specifically with mobility in mind. These processors will be designed for Ultrabooks and Intel is pretty bullish about its market potential especially with the upcoming introduction of Microsoft Windows 8 operating system.
We've already mentioned earlier that Haswell will operate at about 10W, a rather large reduction in terms of power consumption as compared to today's current Ivy Bridge ULV processors at 17W. But what we do know today is that Intel will be delivering some of these chips as an SoC (System on Chip) component. This means that the processor will come in a single chip comprising the multi-core processor, memory controller, graphics and the PCH (Platform Controller Hub). Obviously, integrating the PCH into a single chip would benefit the entire system in terms of power management but it will also simplify board designs with a more compact layout. We are expecting such an approach to benefit OEMs to a large degree and we're pretty sure that even more innovative form factors will present itself as a result of these new 4th generation Core SoC.
According to Intel, the upcoming 4th generation Core SoC will be a multichip package as opposed to a single monolithic die. This is because Intel wants to keep its design flexible for chips used in other platforms such as high performance laptops or traditional desktop systems. As such, gaming laptops or desktops would still continue to adopt a CPU and PCH combo.
Dadi Perlmutter also demonstrated the graphics capability of the new 4th generation Core processor. The first public demonstration of this next generation CPU showed a much improved graphics engine which can deliver performance roughly 2x of current 3rd generation Core processors when operating at the same power level. At reduced power consumption however, Intel showed how the 4th generation Core will run at the same (or better) performance level as current generation processors. This shows how an Ultrabook equipped with Haswell can give users the choice to choose between performance and power, be it whether for gaming or where battery life performance is required.
In addition to improved graphics performance, the 4th generation Intel Core will support displays with up to 4K resolutions (3840x2160) and up to 3 different displays in total, increased from 2560x1600 on current 3rd generation Intel Core. Although most laptops and desktops today are only offering displays up to 1080p in resolution, we suspect much of this will change next year especially with Apple leading the industry with Macbooks equipped with retina displays. If this is any indication at all, perhaps next generation 21- or 27-inch iMacs may feature retina 4K displays?
Besides improvements to battery life, power consumption and graphics performance, Intel will also be building new capabilities to complement new usage models enabled by the Ultrabook/tablet form factor and Windows 8 operating system. New input methods like touch will be part of most Ultrabooks shipping with Windows 8 later this year as well as speech recognition. During the keynote, Dadi Perlmutter demonstrated how a Dell XPS13 Ultrabook equipped with Nuance's Dragon Asssistant Beta can understand complex instructions. In the demonstration, we were shown how the Ultrabook was able to recognize instructions with a mixture of English and foreign language. The natively optimized software runs as it is in the Ultrabook and it's not a cloud service so users can continue to use speech commands even when their device is not connected to the internet. Dell will be the first to be certified for Nuance's Dragon Assistant Beta software and they plan to make it available in the United States next quarter while other OEMs are expected to offer this feature by the end of this year and next.