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Intel to unveil shift in PC chip design

Intel Corp. is preparing to unveil a significant change in its computer chips - which emphasizes power efficiency and multitasking as much as raw speed.
/ Source: Reuters

Intel Corp. is preparing to unveil a significant change in the underlying technology of its computer chips, one that emphasizes power efficiency and multitasking as much as raw speed.

The change, which Intel has billed as its "next-generation architecture," involves alterations to the circuit design of its microprocessors, the central chips in personal computers, which it sells today under the Pentium brand name.

The Santa Clara, California-based company said on Thursday it will provide details of the shift at a gathering of technology developers in San Francisco later this month.

In materials released ahead of the gathering, the company said the new technology will allow for energy-efficient chips that can be used in sleeker boxes than today's often clunky desktop machines.

Though the new chips will be structurally different, the changes are likely to be transparent to PC users, who would continue to be able to run similar software packages, including Microsoft Windows.

Already, analysts are predicting Intel will borrow heavily from its notebook computer chip line, known as Pentium M, in its designs for next-generation personal computer products.

"When they did the Pentium M, they were under tight constraints on power," said Nathan Brookwood, an independent technology analyst and consultant.  "Now, desktop and server are facing similar kinds of constraints.  It's not so much battery life as it is noise, just the physics of cooling a really hot, small chip," he said.

Pentium M, released in 2003, is best known as the microprocessor component of Intel's Centrino brand of notebook computer chips.  Centrino also includes a wireless networking chip and an auxiliary chip for graphics, memory and other functions.

The Pentium M processor has won plaudits from technology reviewers for its efficiency, and analysts have long predicted that it would become the successor to the current line of Pentium 4 desktop chips, which some PC makers have criticized as power hogs.

At the show, called the Intel Developer Forum, Intel will also shed light on its new Digital Health group, a start-up venture within the technology bellwether that is aiming to develop products and services to address the rising cost of healthcare for an aging population.

The company's Digital Home and Mobility groups will discuss devices, content and services for entertainment, as well as technology to link cellular phones to personal computers.

Much of the discussion throughout the event will focus on multi-core chips, which contain two or more processing cores in a single silicon chip.

Multi-core, which allows for more efficient multitasking, is a feature that new Chief Executive Officer Paul Otellini has called one of the keys to the company's future.