Interview: Intel

Intel's UK retail director Dan Belton talks to PCR...
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Your new chip technology is now emerging in the form of the second Generation Core processors. Can you tell us a bit about how they are being implemented and how it is changing how PCs work?

We’ve got some 20 new products launching today [at CES], and something in the order of 500 new computers coming out this year with our new products on.

For us it’s very much about the integration of not just computing, but increasingly the implementation of graphics technology onto the CPU.

Those are becoming the really awesome things, not just from our point of view, but also from the OEM’s perspective, and certainly from what the retailers are telling us as well. This gives them a really strong proposition in refreshing and building more value as it relates to the customer experience.

So most of this is getting enhanced graphics capabilities onto CPUs, taking jobs which used to be handled mainly by discreet graphics cards.

Exactly. Now, other than with really, really high end gaming, you don’t need a discreet graphics card. The quality of graphics capability on this new generation of CPUs is high enough. The whole experience is really strong.

So high-end gamers will still need graphics cards, but for years they have been utilised in things as fundamental as the operating system. Is this situation changing?

Absolutely right, it’s absolutely changing. As the performance goes up on the CPU, and the die size shrinks, we can get more capabilities onto the CPU – and graphics capabilities are absolutely one of those things.

To answer your question, in the UK market the graphics card attach isn’t as high as other markets, such as Germany. The reasons we’re not really clear on, but the reality remains.

A discreet graphics card also pulls power. Clearly if you’re doing what we’re doing, which is graphics on the chip, the power consumption is reduced, the battery power is increased.

So as much of the industry seems concerned with miniaturisation, taking existing technology and cramming it into tablets or smart phones, I guess that question of power is increasingly important?

It’s absolutely critical. And in addition we’re seeing new form factors coming out. We’ll see another renaissance of ultra low voltage, ultra thin devices coming through this year.

The netbook category continues to carry forward very strongly. We haven’t seen the price erosion everybody else has stated. We’ve got dual core atom launching in Q3, and we’ll probably see bigger screen sizes coming out. The momentum remains really strong.

So you wouldn’t say tablets are eroding PC sales?

It’s too soon to tell. Apple has done a fantastic job with the iPad, that’s for sure. You see them everywhere. Which is great news because it proves it’s a category. We’ve got some great products shown off at CES as well, a lot of new designs coming out. It’s really too soon to say how much the market is shaping up in terms of which category is stronger and which isn’t. Netbook and tablet are very much additives. To get the most out of these products you needed a pretty high-end laptop or PC. So in fact the more devices you add, the higher the performance you require.

And we very much see Sandy Bridge as delivering that performance and associated services.

So essentially you’re talking about pulling down functionality that would have been very high end, and making it accessible to the mass market?

A term that has been used is transcoding. It sounds like a very technical term but it can mean something like taking a video from a PC to an iPod. It’s trying to talk about things more in terms of the user experience, which is a bit of a departure for us. Another thing that’s been said is when you sell to businesses you talk to the head, but when you sell to consumers you talk to the heart.

It’s an interesting point in terms of Intel’s shift in attitude. A few years ago it was just about the chips, not end user functionality. That represents a shift in how you are presenting yourself. What’s the motivation behind that?

I don’t think there’s a motivation beyond that’s where the market wants us to go. If you look around at a show like CES you see thousands of software providers – and it’s an interesting point you made about bringing professional capabilities into the house.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest Adobe for example, but the ability to render a photograph and some of the other features – it’s not that long ago that that was the sort of stuff you’d go and get a professional to do. We all do it at home now. So the market is driving us that way. Moore’s Law is still very strong and prevalent. Because actually the more we shrink the die, the more capabilities we can put on the CPU, and then you need fewer resources around it. So you win on power, thermal, and performance.

So graphics cards are still needed for high-end gaming, but can you see more and more components of a PC being brought onto the CPU?

We do show high-end gaming software being run on our CPUs. I guess it’s less about the technology and more about the people that are using it. On a high end gaming machine people can spend three, four or five thousand pounds.

There are a lot of big mainstream games that run totally on Sandy Bridge hardware, such as Starcraft 2, which is huge. Portal 2 is going to be optimized for Sandy Bridge as well. It’s starting to get there.

What else can we expect to be making waves in 2011?

The whole smart TV category is set to explode. And I was quite pleased to see Samsung calling it smart TV. Our expectation this year is that it’s going to be very important, especially as more and more of the content gets unlocked.

Next year is when it will get really big. And we’re right at the heart of that. A lot of people that are selling our CPUs are also selling the TVs.

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