Friday, June 20, 2008

Intel Bids on Solar Energy: Spins off Solar Energy Technology Startup

To spur new development and demand for renewable energy sources, Intel Corporation is spinning off key assets of a start-up business effort inside Intel’s New Business Initiatives group to form an independent company called SpectraWatt. Intel Capital is leading a $50 million investment round in SpectraWatt and is joined by Cogentrix Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group, PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund and Solon AG.

SpectraWatt will manufacture and supply photovoltaic cells to solar module makers. In addition to focusing on advanced solar cell technologies, SpectraWatt will concentrate development efforts on improvements in current manufacturing processes and capabilities to reduce the cost of photovoltaic energy generation. SpectraWatt expects to break ground on its manufacturing and advanced technology development facility in Oregon in the second half of 2008 with first product shipments expected by mid-2009.

Solar cells are the discrete components in a solar energy generation system responsible for converting sunlight to electricity. The end-user market segment for solar technology in 2007 was approximately $30 billion, a 50% increase from 2006, according to Photon Consulting. Solar industry growth of 30 to 40% annually is expected to continue in years to come as the economics of solar, which is currently approximately twice the cost of delivered retail electricity on a per kilowatt basis, begins to approach that of traditional electricity-generation technologies.

“SpectraWatt is a great example of technology resulting from entrepreneurial efforts inside Intel. This is an important investment for Intel Capital in the growing cleantech sector and we look forward to working with the company to support its expansion,” said Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president.

Intel is on track to reduce its total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 30% from 2004 levels through 2010, and also recently introduced lead- and halogen-free microprocessors.

Intel Atom Competitor from AMD: Rumors

The launch of Intel Atom processors is expected to stimulate the MID/netbook market growth dramatically. It would be surprising if Intel rivals would pass on the opportunity to compete with them in this new market. There appeared a slide today revealing an upcoming AMD processor that is claimed to be the No.1 competitor to Intel Atom and VIA Nano.

This single-core 64-bit processor features 128KB (64KB + 64KB) L1 cache, 256KB L2 cache, features an integrated memory controller supporting one DDR2-400 SDRAM DIMM or SO-DIMM module. The CPU features a HyperTransport bus working at 800MHz frequency. The CPU runs at 1GHz clock speed and boasts 8W TDP. The CPU is designed in BGA packaging with 812 pins that measures 27 x 27mm.

In fact it is a simpler modification of the good old Athlon 64 adapted for the mobile and integrated solutions segment. Overall, this scheme reminds us of the AMD Geode NX processor family originating from the Athlon cores. However, if Geode NX used to be based on K7 micro-architecture, now the new processors have every chance to get a 64-bit K8 core.

It is evident that while AMD may be having problems tackling Intel in the high-end desktop and notebook markets, the company is looking to go toe-to-toe with Intel in the emerging Mobile Internet Device (MID) and netbooks/nettop market. AMD solution differs from Intel Atom processors by 64-bit extensions support and an integrated memory controller.
Nevertheless, we doubt that the CPU on the slide is that competitive, because the TDP of 8W is too high. Atom’s TDP is only 2.5W and even if we add the 4W TDP of Intel i945GSE chipset, which, by the way, has an integrated graphics core absent in the upcoming AMD processor, the total number will still be only 6.5W.

I would like to remind you that so far AMD hasn’t been very successful in the budget markets. Their PIC (Personal Internet Communicator) initiative based on the “integrated” AMD Geode GX processor resulted in significant financial losses for the company. The OLPC XO student laptop project (AMD Geode LX processor) was late to launch and right from the start yielded to ASUS Eee PC. Will the new solution be a success? It all depends on its performance and price.

NVIDIA Drops Prices on GeForce 9800 GTX

Nvidia today urgently informed their partners about the corrections made to their last generation G92 based single-chip solutions line-up, because they were expecting the competition in the mainstream segment to get more aggressive. First of all, they reduced the recommended prices on their GeForce 9800 GTX solution that will now be available for $199.

A newer modification of this graphics card, GeForce 9800 GTX+, will be competing against the new Radeon HD 4850. According to the report on Tweaktown site, the new solution will have its chip frequency increased from 675/1688MHz to 738/1836MHz. As a result, GTX+ model should be about 10% faster than the regular GeForce 9800 GTX. GeForce 9800 GTX+ should supposedly be available in the market for something around $229 retail price.

Among the innovative features of the new GeForce 9800 GTX+ the manufacturer lists support of PhysX and Folding@Home as well as some other CUDA optimized applications, however, this advantage may be available to other Nvidia graphics cards, too. Of course, GeForce 9800 GTX+ will continue to support SLI and 3-Way SLI.

JEDEC Lowers the Power for DDR3

Improvements in silicon production processes have enabled a reduction in the core and I/O voltage for an incremental improvement in DDR3. Called “DDR3L” for Low Voltage, the new devices will operate from a single 1.35V rail, compared to the 1.5V of existing devices, resulting in a power savings of 20% in many mainstream applications.

These devices are intended to be compatible with existing 1.5V DDR3 systems and may operate without restriction in those applications. All JEDEC standard DDR3 memory modules include a Serial Presence Detect (SPD) device, an EEPROM readable over an SMbus, that informs the host system of the capabilities and characteristics of the module, including the supported supply voltages, so that system designs can be aware of and take advantage of the new DDR3L devices. The standard for module labels has been updated for consistency as well, with “PC3L” indicating end-user modules such as personal computers, and “EP3L” for modules targeted at embedded products.

“This announcement is consistent with trends in the industry to gracefully migrate mainstream devices to lower power as new fabrication geometries permit the lower supply voltages,” said Joe Macri of AMD, chairman of the JC-42.3 memory committee. “This committee intends to continue evaluating proposals for further VDD reductions in the future, possibly 1.25V or even lower. We hope that System designers will consider making their system designs flexible to take advantage of lower VDD options in the future.”

IBM-Built Supercomputer No.1 in TOP500

IBM's hybrid supercomputer, codenamed Roadrunner, built for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Los Alamos National Lab, burned its way into the TOP500 Supercomputer record book today as the most powerful system in the world. Its sustained performance of 1.02 petaflops (1.02 quadrillion calculations per second) - using the standard Linpack benchmark. It is the first general-purpose computer to reach this milestone. The new performance record represents more than twice the computational power of the reigning TOP500 champ, Lawrence Livermore's Blue Gene/L supercomputer.

This "hybrid" architecture, which optimizes the strength of multiple types of processors, is an IBM hallmark. The design is analogous to that of a hybrid car with similar benefits. For example, if the NNSA supercomputer were built with standard x86 chips alone, the system would have been significantly larger and would have required much more power. But this system is powered by mix of IBM PowerXCell 8i Cell Broadband Engine processors – derived from chips that power today’s most popular videogame consoles - and 6,562 AMD Opteron Dual-Core processors.

While the NNSA supercomputer will be used for ensuring the reliability and safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, it also sets the pace for future research in a variety of scientific and commercial fields including biotech, alternative energy, climate change and physics. IBM expects its hybrid design to lead the way to a commercial supercomputer platform that will support new scientific research and engineering workloads unthinkable just a decade ago.

Although IBM selected AMD processors for their performance leader, 374 systems (74.8 percent) out of Top 500 list now using Intel processors. Moreover, the number of systems using Intel Harpertown and Clovertown quad-core chips showed the fastest growth rising in six months from 102 to 252 systems.

Microsoft May Cut Xbox 360 Prices Shortly – Analyst

Microsoft Corp. may reduce pricing of its Xbox 360 game consoles in the USA during E3 Media & Business summit in mid-July in order to sell more of its latest video game systems, an analyst said. The potential move of Microsoft will be inline with similar decisions made in different regions.

“With E3 around the corner, we can expect Microsoft to make some type of announcement regarding a hardware price cut, the introductory of a new hardware SKU with new features, or both,” said EEDAR analyst Jesse Divnich in a note to investors, reports GamesIndustry web-site.

Earlier this year – in February, March and April – the world’s largest developer of software lowered pricing of its Xbox 360 game console in Japan, Europe and several Asian markets in order to better compete against Nintendo’s Wii and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.’s PlayStation 3.

Mr. Divnich also projects the PlayStation 3 to continue to outpace the Xbox 360 in terms of sales in the U.S. due to the release of Metal Gear Solid 4, a much-anticipated video game that is set to be available exclusively on the PS3. Potential sales decrease of the X360 is another reason for a price-cut that spurs sales.

In addition, the recent market rumours suggested that Microsoft may bring Blu-ray-equipped Xbox 360 game console onto the market this Fall, which is completely logical, given that the developer positions its latest video game system as an entertainment hub for home.

Microsoft Xbox 360 console is based around triple-core microprocessor developed by IBM, high-definition visual processing unit designed by ATI Technologies, I/O controller engineered by SiS and some other key components. The gaming machine provides a broad set of multimedia capabilities in addition to games. Currently Microsoft Xbox 360 is available for $279, $349 or $449 in the USA depending on the version.

Microsoft did not comment on the news-story.

Nvidia Reveals Two Flagship Graphics Processing Units

Nvidia Corp. on Monday formally unveiled two new flagship graphics processing units (GPUs) that bring performance of PC gaming to new heights in terms of performance. But while the new chips offer generally higher performance compared to predecessors and sport unprecedented amount of transistors, they sport no improvements in terms of feature-set.

The new Nvidia GeForce GTX 200-series graphics cards are based on the code-named G200 graphics processor that features 240 unified shader processing processors (SPs, stream processors) , 80 texture units (TUs, 80 texture address, 80 texture filtering units), 32 render back ends (RBEs) as well as 512-bit memory controller. The fresh breed of graphics processors also features double-precision floating point support, re-designed thread dispatch processor, PCI Express 2.0 support and some other tweaks. Like the predecessors, the GTX 200-series is DirectX10 compatible and features hardware acceleration and post-processing of high-definition video playback as well as other capabilities. The new graphics chip consists of 1.4 billion transistors and is manufactured using 65nm process technology at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. Since the developer could not fit output interface into the G200 chip possibly due to transistor budget, graphics boards powered by the GPU will be equipped with a new version of the NV IO controller that supports D-Sub, dual-link DVI, DisplayPort, TV-Out and other interfaces.

Nvidia said that thanks to software advancements the new GeForce GTX 200-series graphics processors will support H.264 video encoding, Stanford University’s distributed computing computational program Folding@Home as well as will eventually support processing of certain physics effects created using Ageia PhysX tools.

Unfortunately, Nvidia decided not to implement any new hardware features: the new GeForce GTX 200-series graphics processors do not support DirectX 10.1/shader model 4.1, any new methods of full-scene antialiasing or any other features. Still, Nvidia claims, with tangibly improved processing power from the previous-generation flagship chip – from 128 to 240 SPs – new video games will ultimately look better.

Initially Nvidia and its add-in-board partners will sell two versions of the GeForce GTX 200: the premium-class GTX 280 with 240 SPs, 80 TUs, 32 RBEs and 1GB of GDDR3 memory connected using 512-bit interface as well as high-end GTX 260 with 192 SPs, 64 TUs, 28 RBEs and 896MB of GDDR3 memory connected using 448-bit interface. The GeForce GTX 280 will have GPU clocked at 602MHz, SPs operating at 1296MHz and memory working at 2214MHz, whereas the GeForce GTX 260 will be clocked at 576MHz, 1242MHz and 1998MHz, respectively.

Graphics cards featuring GeForce GTX 280 GPUs will be available almost immediately from add-in card manufacturers, such as: Asustek Computer, BFG, Emtek, EVGA, Gainward, Galaxy, Gigabyte, Innovision, Leadtek, MicroStar International, Palit, PC Partner/Zotac, PNY, Point of View, Unika, Unitek, and XFX. Graphics cards featuring GeForce GTX 260 GPUs will be available starting on Thursday, June 26, 2008. Suggested retail pricing for the GeForce GTX 280 and GeForce GTX 260 GPUs are $649 and $399, respectively.

AMD Denies Cancellation of New-Generation Dual-Core Chips

Advanced Micro Devices on Wednesday released a short statement claiming that it is still on-track to released dual-core processors based on current process technology and latest micro-architecture in the second half of the year. While the company’s claims clarify the situation from certain prospects, they also raise certain questions.

“The speculation is completely untrue. We’re still on track to launch a dual-core – code-named Kuma – part in the second half of 2008. It will be [made using] 65nm [process technology], still be based on the ‘Stars’ core. So, that's coming,” Jake Whitman, a spokesperson for Advanced Micro Devices is reported to have said.

On Tuesday a web-site published a news-story claiming that AMD had decided to cancel release of its code-named Kuma processor, which contained two processing engines, was based on the 10th generation AMD micro-architecture (K10) and made using 65nm process technology. According to the web-site, AMD planned to release the chip in July, 2008, whereas according to promises that the chipmaker made to its partners a year ago, the “AMD Phenom X2 dual-core processors” code-named Kuma were due in Q1 2008. Usually AMD uses the term “second half of the year” to indicate late third quarter or fourth quarter.

AMD did not provide any actual details regarding release of the code-named Kuma chips, however, implied that instead of the originally planned AMD Phenom X2 brand-name, the chips will carry a different name.

“We have never said anywhere along the lines that Kuma was somehow associated with Phenom. Dual-core Phenom? I’ve never seen that on a road map. We have never branded that code name,” Mr. Whitman reportedly added.

Even though the dual-core K10 chip made using 65nm fabrication process is still aimed at commercial release, its postponement from Q1, to July and now to even later date indicates that its potential may not satisfy AMD or the market requirements, which causes developer to rearrange its plans.

Voodoo Unleashes “World’s Thinnest” Mobile Computer

Voodoo, a high-end personal computer business unit of Hewlett Packard, has announced the world’s thinnest notebook to date. The Voodoo Envy 133 is among the first laptops which resembles Intel Metro notebook concept that was developed by Intel Corp. and Zibra Design and should be followed by a breed of “razor-thin” mobile computers.

The new Voodoo Envy 133 just 1.79cm/0.7” in height. By comparison, Apple MacBook Air has 0.4cm – 1.94cm/0.16” – 0.76” height, whereas Lenovo ThinkPad X300’s thickest part is 2.34cm/0.92” and the thinnest part is 1.85cm/0.73”. Still, the Envy 133 is the heaviest among the three: it weighs 1.53Kgs (3.373lbs) despite of carbon fiber case. All three notebooks come with 13.3” screen with 1280x800 resolution, but Apple’s Air and Envy 133 come without integrated optical disk drive, unlike Lenovo’s X300.

Intel and Zibra-designed Metro notebook is 0.7” (1.778 centimeters) thick and has 2.25 pounds (1.02 kilograms) weight, the thickness very close to that of Motorola Razr and weight that barely exceeds that of a handbag.

Voodoo Envy 133 is based on Intel GM965 core-logic with Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 and may be equipped with Intel Core 2 Duo SP7700 or SP7500 (1.80GHz or 1.60GHz) processor as well as up to 2GB of memory. Depending on configuration, the novelty may be equipped with a low-power 80GB hard disk drive or 64GB solid state drive. In addition, users can plug-in additional storage devices via a USB 2.0 port or e-SATA/USB 2.0 combo power. The laptop is equipped with Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n and Bluetooth wireless technologies.

Voodoo Envy 133 will be available later in June for starting price of $2099.

AMD Reportedly Cancels Dual-Core 10th Generation Microprocessors

Advanced Micro Devices plans to cancel introduction of dual-core AMD Phenom microprocessors based on its latest generation K10 micro-architecture and made using current process technology. The reasons for the decision are not completely clear, but it is highly likely that the company decided to reduce its development costs amid uncertain profitability of such chips.

A news-story published by HKEPC web-site claims that AMD had informed its partners among mainboard makers that it had cancelled plans to release dual-core AMD Phenom code-named Kuma microprocessor based on K10 micro-architecture. The company reportedly indicated that dual-core chips featuring the latest design would be made using 45nm process technology, which will emerge late in 2008.

The code-named Kuma chips would be able to improve competitive positions of AMD’s dual-core lineup, however, potential difficulties with increasing clock-speeds of dual-core K10 might lead to decision to cancel the product. As a result, AMD will have to keep supplying aging K8 micro-architecture powered AMD Athlon 64 X2 chips, which first emerged on the market back in 2005, for many months from now.

At present AMD’s product lineup seems to be considerable weaker compared to that of Intel Corp., primarily due to relatively low performance of higher-end models and inability to compete for the market of most expensive microprocessors. While more competitive dual-core offerings would boost AMD’s product family, this could not improve the company’s financial results substantially.

AMD did not comment on the news-story.

Intel, Communication Companies to Advance WiMAX 4G Development

To accelerate the widespread adoption and deployment of WiMAX technology and products, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Clearwire, Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics and Sprint have announced the formation of the Open Patent Alliance (OPA). The OPA will advance a competitive and open intellectual property rights model, thus stimulating a larger WiMAX industry.

The patent pool will aggregate essential patent rights needed to implement the WiMAX standard as defined by the WiMAX Forum and the IEEE 802.16e standard. To help ensure product differentiation and interoperability at a more predictable cost, this approach will focus on providing a more competitive royalty structure by charging only for the features required to develop WiMAX products. The patent pool will incorporate a variety of royalty licensing solutions, including accounting for cross-licensing among individual members within the pool.

The OPA will issue a call for WiMAX essential patents for inclusion in its patent pool. An independent third-party reviewer will serve as the “patent referee” and will evaluate submitted patents to determine how essential they are to the WiMAX standard and WiMAX Forum profiles. While the OPA initially will focus its efforts on the WiMAX standard, it may work with other industry groups in the future.

Made up of six founding companies at its inception, the OPA expects to secure participation of an additional six to nine investor companies to encompass the WiMAX value-chain and broad geographic representation. Each investor company will have a seat on the OPA board of directors. The OPA will have dedicated staff that is directed by and accountable to the OPA board, and the alliance will serve as the licensing agent for the WiMAX patent pool, representing the licensors who agree to participate in the pool.

In addition to the formation of a WiMAX patent pool, the OPA will educate the WiMAX ecosystem about, and serve as a central resource for WiMAX intellectual property rights topics.

Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia May Develop Their “Own” Next-Gen USB Spec

Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia Corp. and Via Technologies have not yet started development of their own next-generation universal serial bus (USB) controller as they cannot get specifications of the bus from Intel Corp. The latter denies any wrongdoing or intention to affect competitive positions of AMD, Nvidia and others as well as claims that the spec is not finalized.

“The challenge is that Intel is not... giving the specification to anybody that competes with CPUs and chipsets,” a source close to AMD who is familiar with the dispute between chipset developers and Intel is reported to have said by web-site.

While retaining full backward compatibility with USB 1.0 and USB 2.0, devices that feature USB 3.0 will be able to transfer data at up to 10 times higher speed compared to USB 2.0, or at 4.8Gb/s, meaning that a file as large as 600MB could be transferred in just a second in the best case scenario. In addition, the USB 3.0 specification will be optimized for low power and improved protocol efficiency. USB 3.0 ports and cabling will be designed to enable backward compatibility as well as future-proofing for optical capabilities.

In late 2007 the world’s largest x86 chip supplier formed USB 3.0 promoter group, consisting of HP, Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., NEC Corp., NXP Semiconductors and Texas Instruments. Even though AMD, Nvidia and Via are the world’s largest providers of computer core-logic sets after Intel Corp., they are not a part of USB 3.0 promo group, but are members of USB Implementers Forum.

Sources close to AMD and Nvidia claim that Intel already has working chip with USB 3.0 support, which means that the specification is complete and the chipmaker may handle it to the industry and competitors. In fact, Intel demonstrated USB 3.0 operation at last year’s Intel Developer Forum, though, it has never said that the technology had been finalized by that time.

“Just as with previous generations of USB, Intel is working hard to get the complete spec to the industry with as little delay as possible in order to drive the wide adoption of USB 3.0. Intel only gives it out once it’s finished. It’s not finished. If it was mature enough to release, it would be released. If you have an incomplete spec and give it out to people, these people will build their chipsets and you'll end up with chipsets that are incompatible with devices. That’s what Intel is trying to avoid,” a source at Intel was quoted as saying.

AMD and Nvidia need to have time to design their controllers according to any specification. Therefore, in case Intel does not provide the USB 3.0 spec soon enough, the companies plan to start to design based on their understanding of the final specification. This may cause incompatibility issues, however, both AMD and Nvidia reportedly do not want to lose competitive advantage of their platforms in the form of USB 3.0.

“We are starting development on it right now. A separate specification – though designed to be compatible with the Intel USB 3.0 spec – has the potential to create incompatibilities. This is not good for users. But we have no choice,” a source close to AMD was quoted as saying.