Friday, May 16, 2008

Intel’s Next-Generation Enthusiast Platform Begins to Take Shape

While basic features of Intel’s next-generation desktop platform based on code-named Bloomfield processors are commonly known, more precise, but still rather general, specifications were kept under wraps. Apparently, the chipset that will enable Intel’s forth-coming high-end platform is called Intel X58 and will support one physical central processing unit (CPUs) as well as up to four graphics processing units (GPUs).

According to slides, which resemble those that come from Intel Corp., published by Expreview web-site, Intel’s next-gen high-end desktop Intel X58 chipset will consist of X58 PCI Express bridge as well as ICH10 input/output controller hub. The X58 is projected to feature four PCI Express 2.0 memory controllers to support two graphics cards with two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots or four graphics cards with four PCIe 2.0 x8 slots.

Support for up to four graphics cards emphasizes that graphics processing units continue to play a huge role in today’s gaming machines and that this would hardly change in the coming quarters.

The quad-core code-named Bloomfield chip based on Intel Nehalem micro-architecture will feature simultaneous multi-threading technology, 8MB of L3 cache, triple-channel integrated DDR3 memory controller that supports up to1333MHz clock-speeds as well as Intel QuickPath interconnect (QPI). The chip will be able to execute eight threads at once, the same number as today’s ultra expensive “Skulltrail” systems that carry two quad-core processors.

The first public demonstration of Intel’s quad-core Nehalem/Bloomfield processors at Intel Developer Forum in April ‘08 revealed that the chip can work stably at 3.20GHz

DVD Will Remain Primary Optical Storage Media on PC Market Till 2012 – IDC

Despite the ramp of Blu-ray drives, DVD burners will continue to be the leading volume product until 2012, according to analysts from IDC. There are a number of reasons for that: Blu-ray burners and writable media remain expensive, meanwhile prices of DVD optical disc drives (ODDs) and discs are getting more and more affordable.

“DVD burners will remain the bread-and-butter business for ODD vendors. Despite Blu-ray’s win over HD DVD in the format war, Blu-ray drive adoption will be limited in 2008 because of their high price and only moderate consumer interest,” said Wolfgang Schlichting, research director, Removable Storage at IDC.

Still, as the PC market’s adoption of DVD burners becomes saturated and increasingly commoditized, Blu-ray adoption will accelerate in 2009 and Blu-ray drives will become the majority of the total market value in 2012.

DVD burners continue their race to become a commodity market. Aggressive volume manufacturers will continue to drive down the price, pushing technology leaders out of the mainstream optical disc drive market.

Blu-ray disc has won the format war over HD DVD, but similar to DVD and DVD burners, Blu-ray will need a three- to five-year ramp to reach mass-market volumes. New affordable BD-ROM drives will lead the way for the BD format’s adoption and more than 100 million Blu-ray drives will ship worldwide in 2011, said IDC.

Nvidia Has No Plans to Take Over Via Technologies, Says Chief Exec

Nvidia Corp.’s chief executive said that despite of rumours the company has no intentions to acquire Via Technologies, a troubled designer of x86 microprocessors, graphics chips and core-logic sets. The head of the company stressed that Nvidia was solely a “visual computing company”, even though it has to collaborate with microprocessor developers in certain cases.

“They don’t need our money. I don’t need theirs. They’re doing fine. People want to create drama,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia’s CEO, in an interview with Cnet

Last month Nvidia and Via signed a pact under which Nvidia will develop a core-logic for Via’s low-cost central processing units. The platform is currently dubbed as “the world’s most affordable Vista Premium PC”, though, commercial name is unclear.

Even though many observers believe that Nvidia is looking forward to enter central processing units (CPUs) business in order to be able to sell its own platforms consisting of CPU, GPU and core-logic sets, the company itself claims that it wants to focus solely on graphics and visualization technologies.

“Our shtick is that we just focus on one thing. We said we’re a visual computing technology company and we're completely focused on this,” Mr. Huang said.

Still, Mr. Huang admitted that there are no computer devices without a central processing unit of any kind and that Nvidia needs to ensure that its GPUs are compatible with others’ CPUs.

“Wherever their processor capabilities intersect with our visual computing focus, we will support them. We support ARM, we support Power PC in the game console world, we support Hitachi SH in the automobile industry, we support Via in low-end PCs,” the chief exec of Nvidia said.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Huang has forgotten to mention that Nvidia also develops and sells core-logic sets that support microprocessors by Advanced Micro Devices and Intel Corp., the two companies that command the lion’s revenue share of microprocessor market. Although those core-logic sets bring tens of millions to Nvidia, they also enable multi-GPU SLI technology that enables several graphics cards work in tandem and is rather popular among computer enthusiasts, a type of users that influence purchasing decisions of the others.

Dell Denies Abandon of XPS Gaming PC Brand

Dell, a leading supplier of personal computers, denied media report about intentions to axe its XPS brand to concentrate solely on Alienware personal computers for gamers. Nevertheless, the company confirmed that it intends to invest heavily into Alienware in order to enable systems with unprecedented performance. While XPS is set to remain, it may no longer be only a gamers’ brand.

“Dell XPS and Alienware are both great brands – arguably the greatest brands in PC gaming – and both will live on. But we are going to expand our focus on Alienware. We are going to invest like crazy in product development, design and engineering to propel Alienware as the premier gaming brand in the future,” said Dell’s spokeswoman Anne M. Camden.

Earlier this week it was reported that Dell plans to abandon its own-branded Dell XPS gaming PCs and broaden the lineup Alienware machines that target specifically gamers. The media report claimed that the move would help Dell to streamline sales of its products aimed at video gaming.

However, Dell sees Alienware and XPS under a little different perspective. According to Dell, Alienware is a luxurious brand for gamers, whereas XPS is premium lineup from Dell.

“Alienware products are built by gamers for gamers and the brand has an impressive heritage of delivering a number of industry firsts in gaming. Alienware was first in the industry to introduce colors and a unique design for its PCs. […] XPS remains an important Dell brand with its heritage of premium performance. While closely associated with gaming, in the last year XPS has expanded well beyond a gaming brand – look at the XPS One, our first entry into the all-in-one market, the XPS M1330, an industry leading ultraportable or the XPS 420 desktop, designed for multi-media activities,” said Ms. Camden.

Dell Set to Axe XPS Gaming PC Brand, Focus on Promotion of Alienware Gaming PCs

Dell, one of the world’s largest suppliers of personal computers, reportedly plans to cease manufacturing of its Dell XPS-branded PCs for gamers and concentrate on popularization of machines from Alienware, a brand that specializes on enthusiast-class desktops and laptops which Dell acquired in 2006. While the report is important for the market of gaming PCs, it may mean that Dell readies substantial revamp of other product lines too.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Dell plans to abandon its high-end Dell XPS lineup in order to focus on its premium line of systems – Alienware. The move will allow Dell to ensure that there is no competition between its own-brand expensive machines for gamers and Alienware, something, which might confuse customers. The lineup of from Alienware is now expected to cover all segments of gaming PCs, from machines that cost around $1000 to haute couture desktops that cost from $10 000.

Dell’s move is completely logical: in other industries, luxury and premium brands of one owner never overlap. Considering that gaming machines nowadays have a number of peculiarities that make them completely different from high-end workstations or desktops, computers designed for video gaming should form one lineup.

Abandoning of Dell XPS-branded desktops and laptops may be a part of bigger plan to rebuild the whole product lineup and eliminate any internal competition between product families.

Currently Dell offers Inspiron desktops for home market, OptiPlex and Vostro desktops that are offered for small, medium and large businesses as well as Precision desktop workstations. The family of mobile computers contains Inspiron, Latitude, Precision and Vostro lineups.

Dell did not comment on the news-story.

Ultra Low-Cost Notebooks Will Not Become Best-Sellers – Analysts

Ultra low-cost notebook personal computers have received considerable attention as a potential solution to the digital divide in developing countries, however, IDC believes that these devices will primarily find success as mobile, secondary computing devices in established regions and in education PC markets. Moreover, even in years from now the market of such systems will be very small, the firm claims.

“Consumers have embraced the idea of the PC, particularly the portable PC, as a personal device rather than a shared household device. This has led to the introduction of notebooks in an increasingly wide range of sizes and shapes, as well as more specialized PCs. Very low-cost, compact notebooks than can be carried around and provide quick and easy access to the Internet via Wi-Fi hot spots fills an important spot in this burgeoning market – the first disposable notebooks,” said Bob O'Donnell, vice president of clients and displays research at IDC.

IDC forecasts worldwide shipments of the ultra low cost notebook PC will grow from less than 500 thousand units in 2007 to more than 9 million in 2012. But with low average selling prices (ASPs), worldwide revenues will be less than $3 billion in 2012. As a percentage of the total consumer PC market, these devices will remain under 5% throughout the forecast period. In fact, even if ultra low-cost system were shipped in 9 million quantity in 2007, they would be just 3.3% of over 271 million machines supplied. However, ultra low-cost notebooks could eventually capture more than one third of the education market by 2012.

IDC believes ultra low-cost notebooks make the most sense as secondary computing devices, used primarily for online activities and carried around more often than "regular" notebook PCs. While the devices offer most of the functionality that many typical users want, a true Web browsing experience is one of the primary features distinguishing ultra low-cost notebooks from smartphones and other smart handheld devices. The one opportunity where IDC expects that these devices could function as primary computers is for school-age (K-8) children.

“Despite its potential, the ultra low-cost notebook will not receive a universal embrace from consumers. The price gap with fully featured notebooks will be small and many consumers will opt to pay just a little more for a fully featured, full size notebook PC. And PC vendors, wary of the very small margins on these very small devices, will promote ultra low-cost notebooks as additive products, not replacement products, and will still face challenges in making them a profitable business,” added Mr. O’Donnell.

AMD Releases Its First Low-Power Quad-Core AMD Opteron HE Chips

Advanced Micro Devices on Monday unveiled its first “highly-efficient” AMD Opteron processors with four processing engines. The new chips feature lowered power consumption, but may not necessarily offer unprecedented performance-per-watt ratio due to relatively low clock-speeds and disputable way of measuring power consumption. Still, they provide low-power quad-core AMD chip options to the company’s clients.

“Our new Quad-Core AMD Opteron HE processors were designed to help datacenter managers who see power consumption and virtualization as the keys to solving their overall performance equation,” said Randy Allen, corporate vice president and general manager, server and workstation division, AMD.

The new chips for dual processor (DP) machines from AMD are quad-core Opteron models 2344 HE (1.70GHz), 2346 HE (1.80GHz) and 2347 HE (1.90GHz), whereas for multi-processor (MP) machines AMD unveiled quad-core 2346 HE (1.80GHz) and 2347 HE (1.90GHz) chips. All the central processing units (CPUs) unveiled feature so-called ACP of 55W, which is considerably lower compared to existing quad-core AMD Opteron processors.

AMD’s average CPU power consumption is a way of measuring power consumption of processing engines within AMD Opteron chips. Since modern microprocessors have built-in memory controller as well as HyperTransport controllers in addition to processing engines, AMD claims that declaring ACP instead of thermal design power (TDP, the amount of heat that cooling solution needs to dissipate) better reflects actual power consumption of its processing cores and allows to fairly compared power consumption of Intel Corp.’s (which have no memory controller inside) and AMD’s processors (which do not require complex core-logic with memory controller).

According to AMD’s estimates, microprocessors with 55W ACP may have up to 79W TDP.

“These new processors which feature AMD’s advanced power management and virtualization innovations offer a compelling platform for power-conscious datacenter managers who are changing the way they think about performance,” Mr. Allen said.

Intel’s latest low-power quad-core chips for DP market are Intel Xeon L5420 and L5410 chips that operate at 2.50GHz and 2.33GHz, respectively. Both central processing units utilize 1333MHz processor system bus (PSB) and feature 12MB of level-two cache. The new low-voltage Xeon processors are intended for DP servers or workstations and have 50W TDP. Thermal design power of Intel’s 5000/5100-series memory controller hub (MCH) is 23W – 30W depending on actual configuration.

Intel also ships a variety of quad-core chips for MP servers with relatively low power consumption, including L7310 (1.60GHz), L7320 (2.13GHz), L7330 (2.40GHz) and L7340 (2.40GHz) with 80W TDP as well as L7345 (1.86GHz) chip with 50W. Thermal design power of Intel’s 7300-series chipset’s MCH for MP machines is 40W or 47W depending on memory configuration.

Even though quad-core AMD Opteron HE-based MP systems may be more power efficient than machines powered by Intel Xeon 7300-series chips, the latter systems may provide generally higher performance. When it comes to DP systems, Intel-based machines are likely to offer considerably higher performance-per-watt ratio due to higher clock-speeds amid similar thermal design power of Intel’s CPU with MCH with AMD’s CPUs.

AMD Opteron 2347 HE, 2346 HE and 2344 HE cost $377, $255 and $209, respectively, in 1000-unit quantities. Designed for MP machines, AMD Opteron processors 8347 HE and 8346 HE are priced at $873 and $698, respectively.

Nvidia: Nobody in the World Talks About ATI and AMD, Except in the UK

A representative for Nvidia Corp. said in an interview with an online publication that nobody in the world, except the United Kingdom, “cares” about ATI Radeon graphics processing units that compete against Nvidia’s GeForce. The scandalous claim was “supported” by demonstration of market share graphs that did not include ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, at all.

“The UK is the only place in the world where anyone talks about AMD or ATI,” said Roy Taylor, vice president of content business development at Nvidia, in an interview with Tech Radar web-site.

According to Jon Peddie Research, among 358.47 million graphics adapters (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4) supplied last year (including standalone and integrated options for desktops, notebooks and workstations), approximately 70.194 million came from ATI, graphics product group of AMD. However, when the interviewers noted this fact to Mr. Taylor, he replied that nobody cared about that.

It is unclear whether the claim that nobody in the world, except the UK, cares about the rival fits into common business ethics and is whether this is a reflection of Nvidia’s official attitude towards AMD, or a personal opinion of Mr. Taylor. It also not clear why Nvidia continues to develop core-logic sets for central processing units from AMD if they are not needed anywhere in the world except the UK.

This is not the first example of Nvidia’s controversial behavior in the recent weeks. Back in April the chief executive of the company – Jen-Hsun Huang – promised to open a can of whoop-ass on Intel Corp., the world’s largest maker of central processing units, whereas chief scientist of the company – David Kirk – said that AMD’s ATI did not have competitive products at all.