Intel inside ... everything on the battlefieldStory
September 25, 2008
I'm a semiconductor guy by training and a gadget geek by choice. These traits cross paths at only one conference each year: the Intel Developer Forum. This past August, the four-day U.S. show consumed all three floors of Moscone West in San Francisco, hosting almost 3,000 attendees, including nearly 800 journalists/analysts (me included).
I'm a semiconductor guy by training and a gadget geek by choice. These traits cross paths at only one conference each year: the Intel Developer Forum. This past August, the four-day U.S. show consumed all three floors of Moscone West in San Francisco, hosting almost 3,000 attendees, including nearly 800 journalists/analysts (me included). Intel took the wraps off several processor roadmaps including Nehalem and future Atom CPUs (Menlow XL), announced groundbreaking partnership programs with the likes of DreamWorks and Yahoo, described its vision of the fourth wave of the Internet and mobile Internet devices, launched its first pure consumer multimedia SoC for televisions, and even re-entered the storage market with a line of super-fast solid-state disks. The list of announcements was so far-reaching that I guarantee much of this will find its way into the military market within the next several years. Following are some of those I consider most relevant to defense.
The fourth wave of the Internet
The Internet has evolved technology from 1) mainframes, 2) servers and PCs, 3) cell phones, and now to 4) always-connected embedded devices: the so-called fourth wave of the Internet. Intel's R&D is driven by predictions for an estimated 15 billion connected devices by 2015, with anchor technologies in Intel Architecture (IA) processors, low-power Atom CPUs and SoCs, encryption and storage, IPv6 by 2012, and connectivity including WiFi, WiMAX, Bluetooth, and ZigBee. Intel coined the term Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), which can be considered handheld battery-operated devices, infotainment platforms such as IP home telephones, automotive telematics systems for navigation or entertainment, and even telemedicine equipment used by rural physicians in third-world countries (from where the company says the majority of device growth will come).
Demos of all these live video and mnemonics-equipped platforms occurred onstage; it doesn't take too much imagination to extrapolate the BMW demo into a dismounted soldier's situational awareness display featuring "birds eye" battlefield data.
As for concrete devices, Intel's sub-1 W Atom CPU was introduced in the spring, has secured "over 700 design engagements", and will clearly be the cornerstone of the company's embedded efforts. The Atom "Low Power IA" and the EP80579 integrated SoC are planned for 2008 (the company's first IA SoC since the 80386EX in 1994). These will be offered in industrial temperature, on the embedded roadmap for extended life cycle, and boast a 45 percent area savings and 30 percent power reduction. Each will spawn unnamed new devices in 2009, code named Menlow XL and San Onofre, respectively. Intel also promised to shrink the already low-power Atom (0.65 W currently shipping) down to ARMcore territory - which means milliwatts in standby mode for cell phones and other low-power doodads.
The company also revved up the previously announced Moblin initiative (www.moblin.org). This Atom-based, Linux-equipped organization provides hardware and software pieces for MIDs. Nearly 20 companies demoed products and application software, but one of my favorites was GyPSii - a location-based "Social Networking App" that mashes up friends' locations with maps and points of interest. If run on a secure network, this could easily be a COTS-based Blue Force Tracker. Another application from OneVoice Technologies provides a user-independent voice recognition interface for MIDs - also useful for C4ISR handhelds operated by Marines wearing gloves who can't punch dinky keys.
Nehalem: Core i7
For the past several years, Intel has been developing products based upon their Tick-Tock Development Model: first a new microarchitecture such as 65 nm Merom ("tock"), followed 45 nm Penryn process shrink ("tick"). Merom and Penryn are the basis for Intel Core (and Core 2, Core 2 Quad, and so on) CPUs. With the next "tock" on tap, Intel's Nehalem finally adds an on-chip memory controller; will be available in two, four, or eight cores; and extends HyperThreading up to eight 2-way simultaneous multi-threads and the new SSE 4.2 instruction set.
Nehalem is Intel-significant because their entire CPU product line branches to either Nehalem or Atom derivatives. When coupled with the X58 chipset, the first Core i7 devices add Turbo Mode, Power Gates, 8-way Threading, and boast nearly a 2x increase in 3-D graphics and a 3x increase in memory bandwidth. This is also the first Intel architecture to use the faster, more expensive three-channel DDR3 memories. The first (Nehalem-EP) will be available late in 2008 as a server chip in the Core i7 family. Desktop and mobile versions (Havendale, Lynnfield, Auburndale, and Clarksfield) follow in late 2009. Suffice it to say, I've not even scratched the surface of just Intel's announcements at IDF.
Chris A. Ciufo