Yes! We now have Banias!

Confessions of an Intel mobile chip engineer

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Updated Phwoarr! Intel enlisted a Randy Plumber to showcase its Banias mobile processor at its Developer Forum keynote in San Jose this morning, although those of us hoping for a cameo by Robin Askwithhimself - or even something saucier - were disappointed.

There's no need to stiffen Intel's mobile initiative with such smut. Banias looks the, er … part. Mr Plumber, an Intel employee, showed off some of the features of the low-power chip and Banias looks set to confound cynics - this one included - who questioned if Intel could ever fit a P4 in a notebook PC.

Actually er... it hasn't. Banias is a modified PIII core, with lots of interesting power saving features, and integrated 802.11a and 802.11b wireless networking.

Randy's demo showed us a Banias notebook playing back MPEG4 video at 30 frames per second, consuming 7 watts. In sleep state power consumption is less than a watt. That's a lower thermal envelope than the PIII or P4-M processors on the market, and you can only wonder how long today's notebooks would last if the PIII, say, had benefited from such dedicated re-engineering.

Randy's device - a Samsung thin and light magnesium-cased notebook - was typical of the slimmer form factors permitted by Banias. The Banias cooler is 67 per cent lighter and 43 slimmer than the P4-M modules, reckons Intel.

Banias has 77 million transistors, and Intel described the improvements with some taxi cab analogies.

Micro-op fusion is like "sharing a cab to go to the airport". Advanced branch prediction is like "dispatching cabs to the airport to coincide with flight schedules." Tighter buffer management is like "night time driving lights that only turn on when a car is approaching," to save energy. A dedicated stack manager is like "a dedicated FastPass lane on a toll bridge".

All these can avoid buffer overflows, which are like "long misgynistic or racist rants from the cab driver", and pipeline stalls, "where the driver refuses to take you South of the river at this time of night". (Alright: we made the last two up).

More practically, Intel is working with base station vendors to validate the wireless capabilities in the chipsets, and some clever passive scanning technology which you flips you to the most optimal network connection.

The first generation of Banias will detect fixed Ethernet to wireless Ethernet transitions, but not wireless Ethernet to mobile packet data (GPRS or 3G) movement.

The prototype hardware looked very impressive indeed, particularly Toshiba's demonstration machine, a very thin and light notebook that was virtually silent.

Banias-based notebooks will appear in the first half of next year. If they can substantially improve on today's power guzzlers, Intel will have forged a daunting lead. ®


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