Intel sees x86 everywhere in future

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The chip giant expects its architecture will be in everything from tinydevices right up to supercomputers

Intel expects to see Moore's law continue for the near future and also plans for its x86 processor architecture to extend across everything from small embedded devices right up to supercomputers, according to the head of its Digital Enterprise group, Pat Gelsinger.

However, programming techniques are going to have to evolve to make better use of many-core chips.

Speaking at a briefing to mark Intel's 40th anniversary, Gelsinger gave his predictions for the future of computer technology, focusing on the key areas of Moore's law, many-core chips, the Intel architecture (IA), and visual computing.

Gelsinger said that Moore's law would continue to extend into the future, and said that Intel has a roadmap for 32nm, 22nm and 10nm chips.

"I can recall in the past we thought reaching 1 micron (1 micrometre) would be hard," he commented, adding that as each milestone was reached, the way ahead became clearer, despite predictions that Moore's law was running out of steam.

Increasing chip complexity will enable a many-core future, which Gelsinger referred to as the "tera-scale age of computing". He predicted that multiple cores will deliver spectacular gains in performance if software can take advantage of it.

"We're looking at products with tens of cores in the near future," he said, but warned that the industry will run into difficulties over the next decade unless the problem of coding for highly parallel architectures could be solved.

However, Gelsinger expressed his confidence in the architecture that has powered Intel's mainstream chips for thirty years, and believed it will extend into areas where it is not currently used.

"IA will be everywhere from nanowatts up to petaflops, from the largest right down to the smallest systems," he said.

When asked whether x86 chips might even be seen in phones, Gelsinger said Intel was already heading in this direction with its Atom chip launched earlier this year.

"We're down an order of magnitude [in power consumption] from Centrino, aiming for a few tens of milliwatts, which will put us in the handset range," he said, predicting that the firm will get there within the next couple of years.

Intel also expects that the power of many cores will lead to innovation in user interfaces, particularly visual computing, which Gelsinger said has stagnated since the GUI became popular in the nineties.

User interfaces are set to become more immersive, intuitive and interactive, but Intel will be the facilitator rather than leading development, he added. @ 2010 Incisive Media

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