IDF 2012: Dadi Perlmutter talks Haswell and spanning mobile devices

Dadi Perlmutter took centre stage this morning, delivering the opening keynote at IDF 2012. Perlmutter has a job title that would take up half of this page, but suffice to say that this is the man who has been driving Intel’s mobility vision for a long time, and that alone makes him the ideal candidate to convey Intel’s message. The message in question is that Intel has all the pieces of the puzzle, from the data centre, right down to the mobile phone.

Perlmutter highlighted the two-pronged arsenal at Intel’s disposal, in the shape of Core and Atom, with most of the focus on the forthcoming generations of both solutions – Haswell and Clover Trail.

Haswell represents the fourth generation of Core chips, and because it represents a “tock” in Intel’s “tick-tock” product cycle, it will bring new architecture to the table, but on the same 22nm fabrication process used by the current Ivy Bridge chips.

One of the highlights of the Haswell architecture is vastly improved power management, with Intel claiming a 20x reduction in idle power draw compared to Sandy Bridge, which was the last “tock” in the Core series. This type of power reduction will mean that Haswell based Ultrabooks could exhibit significant improvements in battery life, as well as increased performance.

Perlmutter also showed a live demo highlighting the improved graphics engine within Haswell. Intel claims that Haswell has twice the graphics processing power of Ivy Bridge, but even if that’s true, it’s unlikely to have Nvidia and AMD shaking in their boots. Far more impressive was the second demo, showing that Haswell can match Ivy Bridge graphics performance while drawing half the amount of power – a far more compelling feature, considering Intel’s focus on mobility.

Ultra-low-power versions of Haswell could also prove to be viable options for tablet devices, creating a cross-over with Clover Trail in the mobile device arena. But as was shown up on stage this morning, despite the fact that Atom can run the same applications as Core, it really can’t compete when it comes to performance. So, if you’re looking for a device in that cross-over category, you’ll have to decide on whether battery life is paramount, or whether you still need a bit of grunt to get your work done.

However, if Intel can continue to reduce the power needs of its Core offerings, while maintaining performance, one has to question the longevity of Atom. Okay, as things stand, we’re not going to see a Core chip in a smartphone, but how much longer will it be before we do?

Intel has only just started to take the mobile fight to ARM, with barely a handful of Intel powered phones hitting the market before year-end, but I’m fully expecting that competition to hot-up over the next couple of years. And if Intel can continue to reduce power needs, while increasing its performance, there’s a good chance that we’ll see a significant increase in handset with Intel inside.