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Intel moots Centrino-style home PC platform

Grantsdale chipset details emerge

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IDF Spring 2004 Intel wants its upcoming Grantsdale chipset and the recently released Prescott 90nm Pentium 4 to form the basis of a home computing platform along the lines of Centrino.

At this stage, it's not clear if the chip giant intends to create a branded platform, as it did with Centrino, or simply tout the technology as a broad category of the home PC market.

Certainly it has been touting its Entertainment PC (EPC) categorisation rather a lot of late. But it also has a platform definition, codenamed 'Kessler', co-developed by FIC, which lays down what an EPC should contain: primarily a Prescott and Grantsdale, all inside a consumer electronics-style casing. The EPC is designed to work alongside consumer electronics devices such as big screen TVs and hi-fi speaker rigs, rather than sit in the corner next to a monitor.

Grantsdale will feature dual-channel 400/533MHz DDR 2 SDRAM support, PCI Express, the next generation of Intel's Extreme Graphics and 'Azalia', the high-end audio sub-system Intel announced last September as a component of 'Sonoma', aka Centrino 2.

Azalia is now officially called Intel High Definition Audio, and will offer Dolby 7.1 surround sound. Indeed, Dolby is producing a whole series of audio codecs that sit on top of HD Audio.

What will probably be called Extreme Graphics 3 will feature dual independent display support and deliver better graphics than "any of the game boxes on the market today", claimed Louis Burns, Intel VP and head of the company's desktop products group, during his IDF keynote today. It will support DirectX 9.

Fundamentals

Grantsdale will also feature a software-based Wi-Fi access point to allow it to operate directly with any other 802.11-enabled system. While Grantsdale doesn't itself include a Wi-Fi adaptor, Intel will almost certainly include such a product should it define a Centrino-style platform. As Burns put it, "wireless is so fundamental to this usage model".

Grantsdale is due next quarter, according to Burns, most likely late March/early April, we reckon, when Intel will christen it the i915.

The Grantsdale-based EPC, meanwhile, is intended primarily as a media consumption system, said Burns. As Intel defines the category, the EPC will offer DVD and HDTV playback, a TV tuner, PVR functionality, consumer electronics-quality audio - ie. Azalia - and advanced 3D graphics for gaming (courtesy of Extreme Graphics 3).

Other home PC categories the company is pushing - all based on Grantsdale and Prescott - include the content-making Creativity PC and the content-consuming (but still recognisable as a desktop, unlike the EPC) Space-constrained PC.

Of course, to make a success of the EPC concept and the Kessler platform, Intel will need to improve Prescott's power characteristics - CE devices do not, as a whole, run as hot (or as noisily) as a desktop PC.

It also needs to ensure DDR 2 prices come down to DDR 2 levels. While DDR 2 volumes are expected to ramp considerably during Q3, prices aren't expected to come down to the a mainstream point until 2005. Interestingly, that's when Intel expects its 'Sandow' EPC reference design to be practical. By then it may also have lowered Prescott's power demands. ®

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