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Almost every year Intel’s Paul Otellini gets to be proven right

Posted: 04.02.10

Paul Otellini says no other architecture has ever survived other than the x86. He cites RISC, Transputer, SGI’s geometry processor, array-processors, DSP, and others. Now he can add the Cell to his list.

Last month, Sony said they would not do a Cell 2 for the next gen PlayStation, and last week IBM said they would not develop a Cell 2 for their next gen servers. The noble if somewhat limited Cell experiment is over. Alas poor Cell, we never knew you well.

The Cell suffered from an awkward programming structure and lacked some critical inter-processor linkages. One could say all the failed architecture’s demises were due to software; no one wanted to learn Occum, DSPs were notoriously difficult to program, and every FPGA vector processor came with a unique instruction set.

Of course, the one processor Otellini would like to see die is the GPU, and Larrabee was supposed to be the GPU killer. That little drama has had an interesting twist to it, and we’re not really sure if the fat lady has sung yet or not.

The power density of x86 cores doesn’t seem to scale as well as those of the GPU, so a Larrabee array may never be realized as a competitive product. (The 80-core technology demos Intel has shown aren’t enough.) That might be awkward for Otellini’s law but merely as a special case. And in a faint acknowledgement of the power-efficiency of the GPU architecture, Intel is launching three new processors with GPU cores built into them.

Otellini’s law has got to be troublesome for companies like Tensilica, AAA, Sun/Oracle, and maybe even IBM, but it doesn’t seem to faze ARM, ARC, or MIPS—yet. Here is where Intel is making a big bet in the form of Atom and Moorestown. If Moorestown can hit the power points Intel is predicting for it, then the IP RISC suppliers will for the first time have a serious competitor.

Otellini’s law is also weighted by the marketing muscle of Intel. The company’s sheer size and the enormous pile of legacy software built on x86 make it difficult for any other architecture to compete regardless of its merits. That is the main advantage ARM and its IP companions have had in their worlds; no x86 software to contend with. And, ironically, it will be Moorestown’s burden to contend with various (13 as of now) operating systems in the mobile device market. That is one reason why Intel has developed Moblin and made a partnership with Nokia on MeeGo.

Whereas it was once thought the Intel-Microsoft axis would take over the world, Microsoft now finds itself under strong attack at the top from Linux, and at the bottom from Google and other Linux-like OSs. Had Microsoft succeeded in the mobile device space, Intel would have been an easy winner.

So Otellini will continue to collect pelts of fallen and failed architectures but he’s got his work cut out for him in the GPU and mobile device space.

We’ve just sized the mobile device market, breaking it up into ten segments. and ARM is the only processor to appear in all the segments. The mobile device market is just under 600 million units a year now, growing to 1.3 by 2015 or roughly 2x the PC market. That’s an attractive adjacent space and Otellini wants some it, maybe all of it. He’s just got to get all the participants to obey the law.

Can’t hold still? VIA can fix it

VIA Technologies just announced their VIA VX900 media system processor, which they describe as a full featured single chip solution. They are coupling it with the latest VIA Nano-3000 Series processors and say the combo will bring truly stunning video playback to the latest HD online video services.

The VIA VX900 MSP features the VIA ChromotionHD 2.0 video engine, and VIA says that little engine has the right stuff to give you hardware acceleration of the H.264 codec technology that is driving today’s advanced online HD video streaming services. According to Richard Brown, Vice President of Marketing at VIA Technologies, “The VIA VX900 brings crisp, smooth 1080p HD video content to life without hogging key system resources or resorting to an additional third party decoder.”

Support for the latest Blu-ray titles with VC1 and H.264 codec is bolstered, says VIUA, with acceleration for MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and the latest WMV formats. The latest connectivity standards are supported and include dual channel support for Display Port, HDMI, DVP, VGA and LVDS/TMDS.

The VIA VX900 MSP can use the latest DDR3 system memory at speeds of up to 1066MHz and is compatible with the VIA Nano, VIA C7 and VIA Eden processor families. The VIA VX900 integrates all the features of a traditional North and South bridge solution into a 31mm x 31mm single chip package, offering a reduced overall silicon footprint compared with competing twin-chip core logic implementations.

The combination of the VIA VX900 and the VIA Chrome9 HCM 3D integrated graphics core provides DirectX 9.0 support and a 128-bit 2D engine with hardware rotation capability. The VIA VX900 uses a high bandwidth PCI Express 2.0 interface with one x8 lane and three single lane PCI Express II expansion slots, two PCI slots and a VIA Vinyl HD 8 channel audio codec.

An IDE controller, support for two SATA II drives, SD/MMS/MMC card reader support and 8 USB 2.0 ports are supplemented with support for PS/2, UART, SPI, GPIO and LPC technologies. Fast Ethernet and Gigabit connectivity options are provided through a dedicated controller.

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 CAGAR
Total Mobile Device Shipments 597.4 682.9 771.8 881.9 1,014.7 1,164.7 1,335.1 14.3%