Into the future

We explore tomorrow's technologies today.

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By  Cleona Godinho and Matthew Wade Published  October 31, 2007

We explore tomorrow's technologies today.

The future of... the PC

We've experienced dual and quad-core CPU power and how awesome that is, so what's next? Eight cores? New form factors? Will the humble PC finally make it into the living room? We spoke with Intel and AMD to get some answers.

Taking a short-term view first, we asked AMD and Intel what component technology we're likely to see hitting the desktop in the coming months. Both firms, it turns out, harbor some differing thoughts, with Intel talking up its tick-tock evolution model and AMD instead keen on talking up specialised cores.

Carl Lewin, the manager of Intel's GCC Innovation Centre explains: "Our current roadmap follows a ‘ticktock' model; we launch a new processor technology, such as Core 2 Duo, then follow that up with enhancements, and then move on to our next CPU technology." To elaborate, Intel's confirmed strategy is to introduce a new microarchitecture, linked with a new generation of silicon process technology, approximately every two years. The firm expects that little-by-little this strategy will result in a 300% performance-per-watt improvement over today's Core microarchitecture products, by 2010.

"We're now on multi-core products, produced at 65nm. You can expect to see products following that model over the next year, the aim being that greater workloads are handled using less power," Lewin continues. AMD's senior field application engineer, Raed Hijer, says desktop CPUs will now "move towards specialised cores; i.e. cores that do specific tasks - such as fusion. Multi-core CPUs will also become popular as apps and tools are multithreaded."

Mobility matters

As identified on page 24, mobile devices such as smartphones are increasingly taking the battle to desktops and laptops, with manufacturers of the former predicting that the overlap between the two (and therefore competition between them) will increase. Intel and AMD don't see these mobile gadgets usurping the PC anytime soon though.

"At some point, will one device take over the world? Well there'll always be a range of user demand, and user behaviour will influence their respective choices of device, so there'll be space for a variety of platforms. The common trend is that each is becoming stronger," Lewin says.

As for what form the PC of the future will take, Lewin reckons that there isn't a huge demand for standard tower and desktop forms changing. The living room is, he admits, a different kettle of fish.

"There are lots of benefits of having a standardised format, yes, but there are also moves towards providing something more attractive, to consumers in particular. You only need look at the popularity of Apple's industrial designs. There is, we think, likely to be a segment of the market that is more fashion conscious," he claims. Intel for example came up with the BTX form factor a couple of years back. Designed to handle heat dissipation better than standard desktops, the idea was that BTX machines would run quieter and so be more desirable to have in the living room. This form factor has, in reality however, been slowly adopted, and only by some OEMs. "We provide componentry that helps meet demands of PC building organisations," Lewin says. "We enable the industry to be able to think along the lines of new form factors." It's then up to other firms to create forms around these platforms, he adds. AMD meanwhile has come up with a new open-standard form factor of its own. "As manufacturing processes advance, and we integrating cores, memory controllers and the GPU on the same die; power consumption becomes more efficient, enabling ultra-small form factors on the desktop. We're taking the lead in this with a small form factor named DTX ," Hijer explains.

On the gaming front, in a matter of weeks power gamers should get a delightful system hit from Intel, when the firm unveils what it's currently calling the ‘SkullTrail' gaming platform. This promises to be a beast, with two sockets for quad-core CPUs and four PCI X slots. "The basic principle is to really let the enthusiast go to town," Lewin claims.

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