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Intel promises Windows Vista on handhelds

Conroe and Merom to boost 'performance per watt'

IDF Intel CEO Paul Otellini today pledged to permit handheld users to run Windows Vista on their palmtops by the end of the decade.

Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer may be none be too happy that his Wintel colleague is setting out to rid the world of Windows Mobile but that's the way it goes. And anyway, Steve Jobs is a customer too, now.

Otellini's pitch was a new generation of devices he dubbed the 'handtop'. The platform is nothing new, of course - PDAs, palmtops and handheld PCs have been around for years - but past attempts to create truly mobile, wireless micro PCs have been hindered by performance and battery life limitations.

Otellini said Intel's new focus on "performance per watt" will remove those limits. The vision is a 0.5W processor with sufficient horsepower to run Windows Vista by 2010. To get there, Intel will first merge its NetBurst and Pentium M architectures into the "next-generation power optimised microarchitecture" creating what Otellini claimed would be a "single and persistent platform for software developers" - that means x86, 64-bit, virtualisation, active management and trusted computing, aka 'LaGrange Technology'.

On the desktop, that means 'Conroe', and for notebooks 'Merom', both 65nm dual-core parts targeting TDPs of 65W and 5W, respectively. Otellini said Conroe and Merom silicon, due to ship commercially in H2 2006, was already "running very, very well".

Merom, he forecast, would deliver 3x the performance per watt of 'Banias', the first generation Centrino processor. Conroe delivers a 5x PPW gain over 'Northwood', the 180nm Pentium 4.

Of course, PPW is a potentially invidious measure: you can increase the figure simply by lowering power consumption, not necessarily by boosting performance. However, Otellini pledged to do both. Driving performance gains will be multi-core parts, to "deliver increased performance without the power penalty". Otellini said Intel currently has more than ten quad- or more-core processors in development.

The upshot will be that, by end of the decade, while power consumption will have fallen by a factor of ten, from Merom's 5W to 0.5W, performance will have increased tenfold too, Otellini claimed. Come 2010, expect to see chips containing ten or more processing cores, he added.

Vista support will come later rather than sooner, but Otellini said he expects OEMs to begin offering handtop form-factor devices during the first half of 2006. Initially, they will incorporate Wi-Fi, but later WiMAX too, he said. ®

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