Silverthorne: Intel Starts On Another Road . . .

Intel recently talked about doing more with less in CPUs. This got little attention, and what attention it got carried the scent of mild disapproval, but in the long run, it will probably be more important than all the Santa Rosas and Penryns and Barcelonas put together.

What Intel did was implicitly concede that CPUs were already more than fast enough for most purposes and people and that they needed to offer those people a different road.

What kind of road? A road in which technological advances are turned inward, to make CPUs and computers smaller, less power-consuming, and cheaper.

There’s a couple named projects, but let’s focus on the one that will impact the most people, Silverthorne.

As this article put it:

“Also on tap is Silverthorne, chip which seems to have several roles. Intel mostly talks about it as a standalone processor which will power UMPC and handheld Web browsers. However, since Otellini characterized it as having “circa 2003/4 mainstream mobile performance,” it could clearly find its way into low-cost notebooks aimed at emerging markets.”

Hmmmm. 2003/2004 mainstream mobile performance. That means Banias-level performance, which is certainly good enough for WP/email/web browsing, and a lot better than what you can do with a small handheld today.

It won’t be like a Banias in a few ways, though. If they just took a Banias and made it using a 32nm process, what you’d end up with would be about 5, which is very roughly the size of one of the letters in this piece. You can make a LOT of letter-sized CPUs with a twelve-inch wafer, and they’re not going to cost too much. Silverthorne probably won’t be as simple or small as that, but that gives you an idea on what could be done.

For power, rather than a 25 watt processor like Banias, it looks like Intel is shooting for about a 5 watt processor by 2010, maybe a bit less than that. Get rid of twenty watts from the CPU alone and you lengthen battery time considerably, which you really need to do when the device only has one or two rather than six or nine or twelve batteries.

No, this is not going to be a gaming machine, and might not even be too good for watching movies. But, as someone recently put it, “Notebooks are undoubtedly becoming more and more popular, but anyone who has an interest in gaming has likely discovered that getting a laptop capable of keeping up with even a $1000 desktop in the latest games becomes a very expensive proposition.”

If I might be very technically incorrect, might I suggest that God didn’t mean notebooks to be mobile gaming machines and movie viewers in 2007, and He tells us this through battery life? There’s not much point in using a computer to watch movies unless you like the extra tension of seeing which ends first, the movie or the battery. I’m sorry, but these are luggables looking for a plug.

(It should be noted that the only notebook measured in the link above which has any vague pretenses of being a gaming machine, the 13-pound, expensive HDX9000, drains a 12-cell battery in just an hour and a half. God only knows how long they’ll frag.)

In any event, it won’t be just people without much money or electricity who’ll be interested in a very low power computer.

Build It and They Will Come

People have felt for a long time that some form of PC would inevitably become ultraportable, and they’ve generally assumed the mobile phone would be the means by which this would happen.

If the iPhone was the first shot, Silverthorne will be the first round of heavy artillery in that war between old and new PC paradigms.

However, no one really knows if the phone will become the next PC; it may take some other form, or there will be a variety of forms for different groups. What’s important to note is that Intel’s slogan for Silverthorne ought to be, “One Ring to rule them all.” From phone to very cheap notebook, and anything inbetween that crops up, no matter what form factor or factors those future portables/ultraportables end up taking, Silverthorne is what Intel wants running it.

This is not to say Intel is bound to succeed, but this is the time to start trying.

And, even now, Silverthorne is going to be offered as an off-the-shelf product, so somebody is bound to make something that can be overclocked. 🙂


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