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Putting on his optimistic hat, Intel CFO Stacy Smith predicted that the first quarter of 2009 would be the "trough" in the poor economic climate for Intel, with recovery beginning in Q2.
But just in case things get worse for longer before they get better, Smith offered clear indications that Intel would be prepared to alter its product development roadmap in 2009, beginning with the upcoming transition to the 32nm process, codenamed Westmere.
"We will absolutely modulate the ramp rate of the process depending on demand," Smith said, adding that Intel could also choose to accelerate older processor lines to 32nm if the situation warrants. Major new product lines from Intel often require significant investments in various new and expensive hardware components as well. Could Intel be contemplating making Westmere-class products that are backwards-compatible with older hardware platforms?
While there are plenty of events to play out before that happens. Smith's comments, which he repeated several times Thursday, seem to indicate that Intel is not rigidly committed to its well-advertised "tick-tock" model -- the product development schedule that methodically alternates process technology shrinks ("ticks") with micro-architecture improvements ("tocks") on a biannual basis.
Intel could conceivably continue to hit its upcoming "tick-tock" targets on a technical level, give or take a quarter, such as the 32nm transition. But if the product development cycle Intel has honed so perfectly over the past few years ceases to ramp across major product lines before the next big target arrives, observers might begin to wonder if the cycle can still be called "tick-tock."
Intel is widely credited with driving the pace of microprocessor innovation at both the manufacturing and architectural levels thanks to its metronomic execution of "tick tock." On Thursday, the chip giant gave signs that it is prepared to be nimble enough to fine tune that model as need be if its own preferred pace is skewing sharply out of time with depressed market demand for expensive new technologies.
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