Paradigm Shift at Intel: IDF Fall 2005

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A second tool, called the Digital Home Capabilities Assessment Tool, aims to gauge a platform's suitability for digital media capability, again by looking at and integrating user needs and experiences:

Again, the langauge indicates a dramatic about-face from Intel's long focus on performance, particularly the slogan at the bottom: "Performance matters, but capabilities matters more." The details of this tool (and the gaming CAT) will be discussed in another article that will be posted very soon, but very pertinent for this article is the science behind the tool.

Psytechnics, by the way, is a company Intel worked with to develop the perceptual models they use. The field is called perceptual modeling, a combination of computer science and cognitive psychology.

Both of these new platform assessment tools are important developments for the PC industry. They represent huge improvement in assessment analytics, and the first serious attempt by a major player in the industry to correlate performance with actual user experience. At this point, I have no opinion about the accuracy of the testing tools, per se, as I've had no time to try them, and only have the Gaming tool in beta mode. However, what is important is that they are attempts to integrate actual user reactions and experience right into the "benchmark", and this, to me, is a quantum leap beyond existing benchmarks. By putting user experience at the center of the assement tools, Intel is finally putting the human being ahead of the machine.

NOTE: Intel has created a web site about the new capability assessment tools, which it refers to jokingly as "one site to unite them all": www.intel.com/performance/newtools.htm

FINAL WORDS

At the start of this article, I postulated that a paradigm shift is being driven by Intel in response to pressures borne upon them by technological challenges, competition and market conditions. To reiterate in a bit more detail, the main elements of the paradigm shift are:

  • End of the processor clock race, replaced by multi-core processor development. Intel simply could not keep increasing the clock speed of its processors; multi-core gives them a new way to maintain market growth. Now they're talking about usability, not speed. This is a break from over 20 years of speed-obsession.
  • A focus on performance-per-watt and power efficiency. By taking the Pentium M processor and making it the basis of its entire future processor line, Intel gets the advantage of the most power-efficient x86 CPU architecture on the planet. The focus on power efficiency is entirely new; Intel has done little more than shrug about the rise of its CPU power dissipation ¬ó from <40W a mere 4-5 years ago to over 130W today. Now they're talking like environmentalists.
  • New ways of assessing and ranking performance, based on user experience rather than speed-focused benchmarks. This is almost unheard of, a real first for the industry. A tech company paying attention to users?!

From SPCR's noise and ergonomics focused point of view, it all looks good. Highly efficient, user-centric processors from the world's biggest processor maker: This surely means much cooler, quieter machines that work better for most people. What's not to like? Time will tell just how these various initiatives and changes in focus will play out... and whether they truly represent a paradigm shift rather than another good marketing job by the folks at Intel.

In the meanwhile, aside from the Pentium M, Intel processors continue to be the biggest power hogs. This comment applies to their current dual-core models as will as their traditional single-core processors. AMD's new X2 dual-core models are widely reviewed as having a decisive edge in performance, as well as being more power efficient. It seems certain that there is tremendous pressure within Intel to bring the new power-efficient multi-core processors to market as soon as possible. As for AMD, they will surely move to take marketing advantage of Intel's shift in focus, perhaps to point out they, AMD, reached this stage earlier and already have more power-efficient processors in the market today, both dual and single core. One thing is for certain. It's not the same-old, same-old in the tech industry these days.

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