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The 7 key lessons of IDF

Mark Hachman | Sept. 16, 2013
Mobile will drive Intel's future—precisely what its competitors figured out years ago.


Let's face it: Intel's track record of anticipating trends in computing is, in a word, lousy.

Intel didn't truly embrace low-power computing until Transmeta forced its hand. The company has repeatedly squandered opportunities in the phone by fumbling its StrongARM processor, and Intel's internal graphics program has struggled to keep its head above water until recently.

Recent trends imply nothing has changed: One could argue that former chief executive Paul Otellini was shown the door because of an inability to, once again, capitalize on mobile—specifically, the tsunami of tablets toting ARM silicon inside.

But, as analyst Jon Peddie noted, Intel does one thing right: It sees mistakes, and it fixes them, dragging its customer industries along with them. In May, Intel shifted its corporate motto to "Look Inside," implying that Intel technology might be found unexpectedly in products beyond the PC. Now, Intel is busy driving the PC forward, but also hedging its bets with any number of non-traditional devices. The common thread? Those devices must compute, communicate, and consume less power than before.

So what does that imply? Seven trends that are changing the computing industry: the lessons of this week's Intel's Developer Forum.

1. Desktops are dinosaurs
It's a bit premature to declare the desktop dead. But the roaring minitowers of years past have been pushed upward into the rarefied air of the gaming PC. Instead, the desktop has evolved into one of two things: a docking station for a notebook, or an ultra-small-form-factor "desktop" device that's actually portable.

Scattered throughout Intel's technology showcase were what Intel rather awkwardly calls NUC's, or New Units of Computing. Just 4 inches by 4 inches by 1.5 inches high, the latest version of these tiny boxes can actually house Intel's latest "Haswell" processor —which in turn has enough graphics horsepower inside its "Iris" graphics accelerator to run some pretty sophisticated modern games. While it seems silly to consider anything but a notebook for a low-cost PC these days, the NUC certainly looks like a strong candidate for the last gasp of the mainstream desktop.

Intel's 14-nm "Broadwell" Core chip, due at the end of the year (and in PCs in 2014) should enable truly fanless designs, Intel executives said. That has implications for the NUC, as well as the...

2. Two-in-ones: the new Ultrabook 
In years past, Intel and Microsoft both pitched new ideas and new directions for the industry to adopt. Several, to their credit, were merely ahead of the curve, such as the SPOT watch and the original Tablet PC. One of the ideas that truly failed was 2008's Mobile Internet Device (MID), an ugly combination of a small touchscreen, Linux, and an SSD.


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