Following Intel’s Ivy Bridge Road

The tech industry loves the concept of new innovation to the point where product launches all too often call to mind infatuated elders showing off photos of their latest grandkids. But practicality tends to drive the manufacturing side of the IT business, with consistency trumping innovation.

As a result, products arrive at market on time, retailers and their customers don’t get grumpy, vendors hit their sales targets, and shareholders are happy campers.

However, whenever you mix innovative technologies and manufacturing consistency, as Intel has done in its new 22nm third-gen Core (aka “Ivy Bridge”) processors, the result can spark literally game-changing events.

Shift Toward Commoditization

So, what’s on the “inside” of Intel’s third-gen Core chips? On the technology innovation front, a 20 percent improvement in processing performance is more than respectable (and in line with previous generation “ticks” in Intel’s longstanding development cadence) but a 2X boost in 3D graphics and HD media performance is the real Core eye-opener.

It isn’t so much about users enjoying excellent mainstream and online gaming performance with systems sporting the new chips. The bigger point is how Intel’s new CPUs will further enable and enhance the increasingly sophisticated media and graphics content that defines modern computing.

In a sense, the tech industry and users it serves are in the midst of a shift toward fully commoditized graphics and media — where virtually every consumer and business can affordably enjoy processes and experiences that once required specialized solutions.

That doesn’t mean that standalone graphics technologies will disappear — but over time, it’s likely that specialty vendors will be increasingly pressured into smaller, higher-end markets. If you should see similarities between the commodity graphics dynamic and what has happened as x86-based systems displace high-end Unix and mainframe systems in enterprise data centers, you would not be mistaken.

To its credit, AMD recognized the situation early on and built its strategic response around the ATI acquisition and APU development. But the trend is also driving other responses, including Nvidia’s ARM plans and its move into mainstream servers, desktops and laptops.

Radical Rethinking

In contrast, Intel developed its own graphics/media solutions in-house, and while the performance of its offerings typically lagged those of graphics specialists, the issue appears to have been largely put to rest by the new third-gen Core.

In addition, Intel’s decision to go it alone underscores the success of its 22nm 3D Tri-Gate transistor advances. The new third-gen Core chips will certainly profit from those developments. But by radically rethinking conventional processor design and successfully implementing the manufacturing processes required to bring them to market, Intel has found a way to extend its product road maps well into the future with 18nm, 14nm and 10nm designs. That means that for all intents and purposes, Moore’s Law will continue to rule the CPU market for some time to come.

In essence, Intel’s new third-generation Core processors represent a major win for the company, its OEMs/ODMs, close partners such as VMware and Microsoft, and consumer and business customers. By resetting the bar for technological and manufacturing innovation, Intel is aiming to bring about a future that will fundamentally change what end users expect from computing systems and demand from IT vendors.

Charles King

E-Commerce Times columnist Charles King is principal analyst for Pund-IT, an IT industry consultancy that emphasizes understanding technology and product evolution, and interpreting the effects these changes will have on business customers and the greater IT marketplace. Though Pund-IT provides consulting and other services to technology vendors, the opinions expressed in this commentary are King's alone.

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