Gone are the days when Intel would thrill the hardcore gaming community with the release of ridiculously muscular desktop platforms with bang-your-head code names like Skull Trail. Gamers, you see, have graduated from playing Crysis in their parents' basements to sling-shotting Angry Birds on their parents' family plans.
The desktop? The desktop is dead.
Or is it? Not according to Lisa Graff, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop client platforms group, who this week detailed the chip giant's plan to "reinvent the desktop" at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco.
Of course, it's in Graff's job description to evangelise desktop PCs even as many pundits declare them yesterday's news. But the Intel exec actually has some compelling evidence that desktops are still a thriving category — it's just that they generally don't look like we're used to them looking anymore.
Did you know, for example, that desktop products represented 47 per cent of Intel's client PC business last year by volume? And that Intel set its all-time record for Core i5 and i7 unit shipments in 2013?
"Our desktop unit shipment volume is actually going up and revenue is going up even more. Desktop is still huge," Graff said. The thing is, the hulking, noisy PC towers so many of us associate with the desktop computer really are going by the wayside, she said. But "some segments in desktop are growing quite sharply," Graff noted, particularly all-in-ones, which have been on a steep, upward trajectory since around 2009.
So Intel's goal now is to go heavily after those growth segments with improved, more versatile hardware platforms supporting dynamic new use models and interfaces. For consumer all-in-ones, the company aims to promote mobile systems that can easily go from stand-up to tablet mode and which support multi-user experiences.
Intel is also introducing something called Ready Mode Technology, Graff said. This is "a capability that takes advantage of new power-saving states in Intel's 4th-generation Core desktop processor, combined with software and board level optimizations which enable OEM desktop computers that are instantly ready and always connected while sipping power," according to the company.
The upshot is that a PC equipped with Ready Mode will be able to operate in active mode at less than 10 Watts, or "less than most light bulbs and appliances in your house," Graff said. At the same time, Intel's new portable, Haswell- and Broadwell-based all-in-one platforms, which the company is calling the "pAIO" category, support multiple operating systems, including Windows, Android, and Chrome, she said.
Since these pAIO systems will remain active on very little power, they'll be able to do things like spring to life and "automatically sync and store your photos from a mobile device when you walk in your home," Graff added.
Some of these new pAIOs are being made available today from Intel's OEM partners with more to arrive in the coming months. Intel is also working with software partners on about a dozen new multi-user, multi-touch applications for pAIOs.
Tiny PCs and powerhouse processors
On the business front, Intel is going smaller with the desktop platforms it offers commercial customers — a whole lot smaller. Forget the cumbersome towers and even the fairly lightweight, blade-type systems populating cubicles around the world. Intel is now pushing what it calls the "mini/tiny-PC" form factors. Think of the Raspberry Pi. Graff highlighted a Celeron-based mini-PC for businesses that's just 4 x 4 x 1in. Okay, think the Raspberry Pi, only assuredly far more expensive.
Finally — this is GDC, after all — Graff offered up a few spare details about some monster CPUs due to come out later this year.
First up, a new "Extreme Edition" Core i7 for the new Intel X99 chipset which will be Intel's first 8-core desktop processor and first to support DDR4 memory. That chip is set to arrive in the second half of 2014, Graff said, while another pair of unlocked processors will be released by mid-year.
Those two are a Pentium "Anniversary Edition" CPU featuring Intel Quick Sync Video and supported by Intel 8 and 9 Series chipsets, and an unlocked fourth-generation Core processor code named Devil's Canyon that utilizes "improved thermal interface material," among other advances.
Finally, Graff offered just the hint of a look at the first fifth-generation Core products code named Broadwell but no specifics on a shipping timeframe. Broadwell will apparently arrive as an unlocked, 14-nanometer processor with Intel's Iris Pro Graphics on board, she said.