Moore's Less: Scenes From The Intel Developer Forum

Intel CEO Paul Otellini kicked off the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant is promoting a "continuum" of computing experiences across a wide variety of hardware platforms and devices at this year's conference. Otellini also expressed confidence in the recovery of the PC industry during his morning keynote, suggesting that PC unit shipments in 2009 may even exceed shipments in 2008 despite the economic recession.

Intel is set to begin shipping its first 32-nanometer processors by the end of this year, but it's already looking ahead to 2011 and the advent of its 22nm process technology. At IDF, the chip maker displayed a working SRAM cell based on its 22nm silicon fabrication process, pictured here. Intel's future 22nm processors will contain a whopping 2.9 billion transistors and feature the third generation of the high-k metal gate process.

The "tick" in Intel's vaunted "tick-tock" product road map is the Moore's Law-driven shrinkage of silicon transistors on a biennial schedule. Here, Intel illustrates how its products keep getting smaller and smaller over time as process technology begins to approach atomic scales -- a fundamental barrier to making transistors smaller that semiconductor manufacturers will have to figure a way around.

How small and powerful can Intel make its processors? The company has essentially formed a second product lineup to complement its traditional client and server business. Building on the success of the Atom processor in netbooks, Intel is now committed to making tiny System-on-Chip (SoC) devices for embedded systems, netbooks and handheld, Internet-connected PCs such as the one displayed here at IDF.

Intel is a lot more involved in software development than you might guess. Moblin developer Claire Alexander, left, speaks with Paul Otellini about Moblin v2.1, the latest iteration of Intel's Linux-based operating system for netbooks, smartphones and other mobile devices. The chip giant is working to produce a user interface for x86-based devices that provides an experience comparable to the Apple iPhone -- and Intel has even launched an "Atom App Store" to encourage software developers to lend a hand.

It's a MID. It's a video camera. It's an editing studio. It's a phone. Paul Otellini, left, enjoys a demonstration of an all-in-one handheld device based on Intel's forthcoming Moorestown SoC platform, due out in the middle of 2010. Also on stage during IDF's kickoff session are notebooks and desktops based on Intel's forthcoming 32nm Westmere products and the next major product ramp after Westmere, a microarchitecture upgrade code-named Sandybridge.

Sean Maloney, the head of Intel's new client computing business unit, opened IDF with a message of optimism about an economic recovery ahead of Paul Otellini's Tuesday morning keynote. Maloney later led attendees on a tour of new and soon-to-appear Intel products such as a pair of low-power Xeon processors and Larrabee, the long-awaited x86-based discrete graphics product from the chip giant. Intel has pledged to ship Larrabee in 2010, but some in the audience were none too impressed with its IDF demo, saying that the ray-traced Larrabee graphics don't yet look ready to compete with Nvidia and AMD products.

In the end, it's all about the technology at IDF and this year's showcase of Intel innovation and developer devotion looks to be no exception to the rule. Intel continues to live and breathe Moore's Law, pushing its process technology relentlessly toward smaller and more powerful computer chips that the company increasingly wants to place in more than just PCs and servers -- from automobiles to smartphones to TVs.