Friday, November 14, 2008

AMD Set to Disclose Netbook Strategy at Analyst Conference

Advanced Micro Devices is expected to present its strategy for netbooks at the conference with financial analysts to be held on Thursday. It is not completely clear whether the world’s second largest maker of x86 microprocessors also plans to disclose its strategy towards ultra low-cost personal computers (ULCPCs) in general or announce any particular products.

“Tomorrow we will discuss our plans to move into the ultra-portable market and deliver new platforms aimed at the key areas driving the bulk of the mobile market expansion,” an AMD spokesperson said Wednesday, reports Cnet News.com web-site.

Even though netbooks have limited performance and numerous drawbacks, they are the category that is hard to ignore: Intel Corp.’s microprocessor market share increased noticeably last quarter because of the shipments of Intel Atom chips aimed at ULCPCs, whereas Microsoft Corp. is developing a special version of Windows 7 designed specifically for netbooks.

AMD fully understands all the market trends: the world’s first netbook – OLPC’s XO laptop – is based on AMD Geode processor; back in 2007 AMD said that it was developing code-named Bobcat processor aimed at low-power mobile devices.

AMD disclosed plans to its partners about the intention to unveil its ultra value client (UVC) solutions in November. In addition, it promised to discuss rival for Intel Atom chips by the end of 2008.

Earlier this year it transpired that there are single-core processor solutions based on the K8 micro-architecture in ball grid array (BGA) form-factor that have thermal design power (TDP) of just 8W, which makes them suitable for mobile systems. Meanwhile, AMD’s UVC roadmap that it sent to partners several months ago indicated Athlon X2 3250e and 2650e processors with 22W and 15W TDP, respectively, which would be ideal for low-cost desktops, or nettops.

It remains to be seen whether AMD plans to discuss, or even announce, its Bobcat processor at the analyst conference, or whether the company intends to present tailor-made chips based on its K8 micro-architecture aimed at developing market segments at the meeting.

Economy Slowdown May Hit Blu-Ray Format Adoption

Blu-ray disc (BD) has won the battle against HD DVD and yet has to win the war against massively widespread DVD, but there is another battle for the Sony-proposed format: Blu-ray backers have to convince end-users to invest into the high-definition video standard amid economic downturn.

“The economy is the biggest challenge, because there are just so many pieces to the Blu-ray puzzle that consumers face. You need the high-definition television set, you need the player, you need the cables, you need the software.” said Lori MacPherson, general manager of domestic home-entertainment at Disney, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

Other executives from various major studios who participated in HD3 panel, which was co-sponsored by THR and Nielsen Business Media, share the opinion that the financial crisis may affect adoption rate of the new format.

“The economy is hitting everybody. But we still look forward to a great fourth quarter,” said Danny Kaye, executive vice president of research and technology strategy at Fox.

Still, according Mr. Kaye, Blu-ray proponents should not panic over the potentially slow road to the broad consumer market since “it never happens overnight”.

There are a number of problems that Blu-ray backers should solve before the technology becomes as popular as DVD. Blu-ray movies still cost considerably more compared to DVDs, particularly in Europe; moreover, not all stores carry broad collections of Blu-ray movies that would appeal to various audiences. Unfortunately, at least some executives do not want to admit that pricing is an issue.

“We are all constantly looking at [disc] pricing. What it amounts to is that we will wait until after the fourth quarter and see how it goes,” said Sony vice president of business development Rich Marty.

Finally, Blu-ray allies have to clearly explain end-users why the format is better than high-definition downloads, which do not offer as high quality as BD, but are considerably less expensive, something particularly important amid slowdown of economy. This will be a particularly hard task as movie studios are interested in selling movies, no matter how, not promoting a physical media standard at any cost.

Online Stores Begin to Sell Intel Core i7 Microprocessors

Several online stores have begun offering their clients the much-talked-about Intel Core i7 microprocessors ahead of Intel’s official deadline on the 17th of November. The situation could be easily foreseen since Intel Corp. began shipping its code-named Bloomfield processors for revenue a long time ago.

At least some stores listed at Froogle.com, PriceWatch.com and Shopping.com offer to order various Intel Core i7 processors now and promise to ship them within three days, which means that if a customer is lucky enough, he or she will get the chip already this week, ahead of the official commercial launch date. Meanwhile, some stores claim that the chips are for pre-order only and will ship or even arrive to the store on the 17th.

It is interesting to note that stores in Europe do not fall behind online shops in the U.S.: according to Geizhals.at price-search engine, there are tens of opportunities to acquire Intel Core i7 central processing unit (CPU) in Europe too.

In addition to microprocessors themselves, it is also not hard to acquire mainboard that supports chips in LGA1366 form-factor, appropriate cooling system as well as triple-channel DDR3 memory module kit designed specifically for Core i7/Bloomfield processors.

Obviously, since the new CPUs or supporting components are not officially available for sale, customers have to prepare themselves to pay higher price premium. However, die-hard enthusiasts interested in getting the newest and highest-performing products will gladly pay higher price just to get the novelties as soon as possible.

Initially there are three Intel Core i7/Bloomfield processors for high-performance desktops available:

* Intel Core i7 955 Extreme Edition at 3.20GHz for $999 (in 1000-unit quantities)
* Intel Core i7 940 at 2.93GHz for $562 (in 1000-unit quantities)
* Intel Core i7 920 at 2.66GHz for $284 (in 1000-unit quantities)

All three chips have 4 cores, 1MB L2 cache (256KB per core), 8MB unified L3 cache, triple-channel DDR3 memory controller, simultaneous multi-threading technology. The new central processing units will require Intel X58-based motherboard with LGA1366 socket as well as sophisticated CPU cooler since all chips feature 130W thermal design power.

Microsoft Releases Direct3D 11 Technical Preview for Developers

Microsoft Corp. has issued DirectX software development kit (SDK) that contains basic technical preview of Direct3D 11. Even though the preview does not expose all the features of DirectX 11, it gives a signal to software developers that Direct3D 11 is around the corner and that they can take advantage of appropriate functionality.

The new version of performance investigator (PIX) tool for Windows, which is a part of DirectX SDK, supports basic stream capture and single frame capture for Direct3D 11, however the new Direct3D 11 hardware features like tessellation, compute shader, dynamic shader linkage, and new resource formats, are not supported. In addition, advanced features like shader debugging and mesh viewing are not supported, according to Microsoft.

The key API difference from Direct3D 10 in Direct3D 11 is the addition of deferred contexts, which enables scalable execution of Direct3D commands distributed over multiple cores. A Deferred Context captures and assembles actions like state changes and draw submissions that can be executed on the actual device at a later time. By utilizing Deferred Contexts on multiple threads, an application can distribute the CPU overhead needed in the Direct3D 11 runtime and the driver to multiple cores, enabling better use of an end-user's machine configuration.

Direct3D 11 also extends and enhances Direct3D 10 with new hardware and API calls. For example, Direct3D 11 introduces the Compute Shader as a way to access this computational capability without so many constraints. It opens the door to operations on more general data-structures than just arrays, and to new classes of algorithms as well. Key features of compute shader include: communication of data between threads, and a rich set of primitives for random access and streaming I/O operations. These features enable faster and simpler implementations of techniques already in use, such as imaging and post-processing effects, and also open up new techniques that become feasible on Direct3D 11–class hardware.

Other key capability of the Direct3D 11 is additional pipeline stages to support real-time Tessellation of high order primitives. In addition, Direct3D 11 introduces a limited form of Runtime Shader Linkage that allows for near-optimal shader specialization during execution of an application.

The first DirectX 11-compatible graphics processing units are set to become available in 2009.

Panasonic and Sanyo in Talks for Merge

In another round of merges between companies on the information technology and consumer electronics markets, Panasonic Corp. and Sanyo Electric Company said they are in talks regarding acquisition of the latter by the former. Panasonic and Sanyo will start discussions, with the aim of maximizing both companies’ corporate values by pursuing synergies between both companies and further strengthening initiatives to achieve potential revenue and profit growth through this alliance.

“Gathering together the accumulated technologies and manufacturing knowledge of both companies, we believe that we will evolve to a corporate group which will be highly admired globally by enhancing the quality of life for the people worldwide and coexisting in harmony with the global environment,” a statement by the two firms reads.

Through this capital and business alliance based on the premise of making Sanyo a subsidiary of Panasonic, the companies aim to share both companies' management know-how and business resources while collaborating with each other, thereby creating a global competitive foundation which will maximize corporate values of both Panasonic and Sanyo and bring benefit for both companies' shareholders and all other stakeholders, including customers and employees.

In the Energy Business Domain, both Panasonic and Sanyo will be able to utilize their complementary technology by cooperating with each other in order for both companies to contribute to the development of the rechargeable battery market as well as its provision of global sales networks in order to expand Sanyo's solar and energy businesses.

“In the Electronics Business Domain and the Ecology Business Domain, we can both expand the range of products and mutually utilize each other's sales channels, in each of the digital, commercial, device and white goods businesses included in these domains. Moreover, we can aim to reduce the production and development cost through technical collaboration,” the statement reads.

In addition to enhancing efficiency of purchasing through joint procurements, Panasonic can share its accumulated know-how on cost reduction with Sanyo, thereby enhancing Sanyo's profitability in every business domain. Panasonic would also like to apply Sanyo's mass production techniques to Panasonic's operation. Both companies will further the best operations of both companies in other areas, without regard to the origin company of the method.

Considering the above, Panasonic and Sanyo will immediately set up a project team, to start intensive discussion on the capital and business alliance between both companies based on the premise of making Sanyo a subsidiary of Panasonic, keeping a variety of options in mind. We aim to maximize corporate values of both Panasonic and Sanyo to bring benefit for both companies' shareholders and all other stakeholders including customers and employees.

“After earnest discussion between both companies, we will disclose the subsequent progress of the discussions between both companies at around the end of December 2008. If we reach an agreement earlier, we will disclose the progress promptly after the agreement is made,” the firms promised.

Prices of Blu-Ray Players to Drop In $150 - $200 Range – Research Firm

The need for healthy holiday sales in a bear market, competitive pressure from movie download services, and media speculation about the future success of the Blu-ray disc (BD) format itself has resulted in falling Blu-ray player prices across a range of current and older models.

“Blu-ray vendors and dealers are starting to realize that for Blu-ray to become the next DVD, they need to lower player prices in order to generate interest and build volumes,” comments ABI Research principal analyst Steve Wilson.

Second tier players and older – 6-9 months – models are now widely available under $200. Amazon is offering a Samsung model bundled with four discs for that price. Holiday season prices may be in the $150-200 range. All of this runs counter to many of the industry’s original market forecasts and expectations. According to ABI.

“They are also getting more competition than they expected from download alternatives such as Xbox 360 and the Roku Netflix player, TiVo and Amazon. However downloads provide an opportunity as well as a threat: both LG and Samsung have concluded agreements with Netflix that allow some of their players to download movies and TV shows straight from Netflix. The more the Blu-ray players adopt these download capabilities, the better they will be able to differentiate themselves from standard DVD players,” said Mr. Wilson.

As a consequence for consumer electronics manufacturers, who expected to enjoy premium prices on Blu-ray equipment for some time, they now need reduce pricing on their BD players so that either increase their popularity or keep the adoption pace on the desired level. It remains to be seen whether amid economic crisis customers will actually decide to start switching to Blu-ray, as many are cutting their spending now and are unlikely to pay premium price for BD movies, which are more expensive than DVDs.

Intel Rolls Out Healthcare Device, Service

Intel Corp. on Monday announced its Intel Health Guide, a care management tool designed for health care professionals who manage patients with chronic conditions. The Health Guide represents Intel's entry into a new category of personal health systems that go beyond the simple remote patient monitoring systems available today.

The Intel Health Guide, which received 510(k) market clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July, is a comprehensive personal health system that combines an in-home patient device – the Intel Health Guide PHS6000 – as well as an online interface – the Intel Health Care Management Suite – allowing clinicians to monitor patients in their homes and manage care remotely.

Intel is collaborating with health care industry leaders around the world to validate the clinical benefits of the Health Guide for a wide range of chronic disease conditions and health and wellness applications. The goals and objectives are to assess how the Health Guide integrates with different care management models in the home. These first studies focus on the ability to demonstrate improved health outcomes for conditions such as heart failure, diabetes, hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Customers such as Advanced Warning Systems (AWS), a provider of health care discovery products and web-based services, monitor people for acute cardiovascular symptoms that can cause sudden death. AWS will use the Intel Heath Guide to connect with a targeted class of users, including retired athletes and post-war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with the highest incidence of cardiovascular related illnesses.

The Health Guide promotes greater patient engagement and more efficient care management by enabling communication between patients and health care professionals and providing clinicians with access to the most current, actionable data. This solution offers interactive tools for personalized care management and includes vital sign collection, patient reminders, surveys, multimedia educational content, and feedback and communications tools, such as video conferencing and alerts. Clinicians have ongoing access to data so that they can better manage each patient's conditions while patients benefit from customized care in the comfort of their own living room.

Intel is working with leading health care organizations that have an understanding of health care delivery to develop unique patient care plans as well as multimedia educational content for chronic conditions. Specifically, Intel is working with the Mayo Clinic to have licensed educational content from MayoClinic.com made available to customers using the Health Guide. In addition, Intel is working with the American Heart Association to create care plans based on the organization's treatment guidelines for a pilot project for the ongoing management of patients with heart failure. The intent is to help health care professionals monitor patients and remotely manage their care in accordance with science guidelines and also to provide patients with ready access to credible and targeted education material. Intel has also hired a team of clinical experts to provide a range of professional services to enable health care organizations to successfully integrate the personal health system into their current disease management programs and models of care.

Additionally, Intel plans to use the core technology components of the solution to build products targeted for new areas such as independent living and programs for health and wellness management and to support new devices such as mobile phones and handhelds.

American Medical Alert Corporation, a national provider of remote patient monitoring devices and 24/7 health care communication services, will be the first U.S. market channel partner for the Intel Health Guide. By adding the Intel Health Guide to its portfolio of offerings, AMAC will be further equipped to provide its customers with the best in care management technologies. The Health Guide is designed to be used by health care professionals to manage their patients at home and is not currently available for general consumer purchase.

"The Health Guide is a step forward in offering more personalized and effective management of chronic health conditions in the home," said Louis Burns, vice president and general manager of the Intel Digital Health Group. "Intel has spent years researching the needs of both caregivers and patients, and we are now moving to launch a series of products that will help extend care from the hospital to the home. Our products will help address the challenges of an aging population and rising rates of chronic disease."