Intel Corp, the world's largest chipmaker, is on the verge of making its biggest push yet into mobile consumer electronics, seeking to replicate its success in mobile personal devices, as well as personal computers long before that.
In the first half of next year, Intel will deliver its Menlow platform, a collection of chips and other components to power so-called Mobile Internet Devices, or MIDs, said Anand Chandrasekher, head of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group at the company's twice-annual technical show, on Wednesday.
MIDs are designed to deliver information to users of gadgets such as satellite-based navigators, rather than for entering data.
"It's a big opportunity available to us over time," said David Perlmutter, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the overall Mobility Group. He also heads up, from an engineering perspective, all of the company's efforts on its Intel Architecture, the basic blueprint of a semiconductor.
Already, Intel has some 80 percent of the worldwide microprocessor market, and its chips power the majority of the world's computer servers and PCs. But as the desktop PC market matures, Intel must look to new markets for growth beyond the rapidly expanding notebook PC market.
"Intel is branching out from its traditional strength in PCs to new markets such as smaller mobile devices," said Endpoint Technologies Associates analyst Roger Kay. "If you look at the entire Intel architectural development, it's moving in a number of directions at once into adjacent areas where Intel hasn't had strength before."
Chief Executive Paul Otellini said in his keynote speech on Tuesday that Intel is seeking to spread its technology from the high-performance computing market to set top boxes, all the way down to Internet-enabled handhelds.
Perlmutter added that in 2008 Intel will begin shipping its Montevina processor technology, based on its next-generation Penryn process, which will combine integrated Wi-Fi and WiMax wireless technologies.
Wi-Fi is already widespread and enables high-speed Internet access over distances of up to about 300 feet from the broadcast point. By comparison, WiMax can provide broadband wireless network access across far longer distances and can be used to blanket entire cities or regions with coverage.
Intel is moving its technology to the 45-nanometer Penryn process from its current generation of 65-nanometer processors. Chips made with the new process will debut on November 12.
A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. At the Intel Developer Forum, the company also showed off what it called the first working chips with feature sizes of as small as 32 nanometers.
At that level, more than 4 million transistors — the tiny switches that comprise computer chips — would fit into the period at the end of a sentence.
Intel's Menlow platform would consume 10 times less power than the first ultramobile personal computers to hit the market. After Menlow, Intel is planning a subsequent platform code-named Moorestown, that would increase battery life exponentially by cutting the use of idle power, the company said.
"2008 should be pretty interesting, but 2009 should be even more interesting" when Intel introduces Moorestown, Kay said.