IDF 2013 And Windows 8 Revisited

IDF 2013 And Windows 8 Revisited

The Intel Developer Forum (IDF) is never boring but it can range from the mundane to the exciting. IDF 2013 is somewhere in between. Intel CEO, Brian Krzanich, talked about a range of new technologies including Quark (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Intel CEO, Brian Krzanich, holds a tiny new Quark SoC for those who might like a custom Intel chip all their own.

I also am putting up a number of image galleries from the show. The list will be updated here but for now these are what I have had time to post. There will also be some videos posted on Engineering TV and here later but they take a little more time to edit.

I moved the table of contents for this rather long blog here. Hopefully you looked at all the pretty pictures and then read this.

There is a lot more that will wind up elsewhere including a What's the Difference Between SDN (software defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualization). So on with the show, or at least the review thereof.

The Quark

The big deal at the show was Intel's real release of Bay Trail, the latest mobile chip that I cover in the next section. The other big announcement, at least from my perspective is Quark (Fig. 2). It was a bit of a surprise so most compared to Bay Trail and most of Intel's other announcements that have been known or hinted about for months.

Figure 2. Quark is an x86 SoC that is synthesizable and designed for you to add your own IP. Intel will them make you that custom chip.

Unfortunately the amount of information about Quark at this point is about what you see in the picture. It is small, an SoC and it will be made by Intel to order. It is a “sub-Atom” device at 1/5th the size and 1/10th the power. It is likely to be something like a Pentium core done in a 32-nm process. Pushing 22-nm or 14-nm would result in a tiny chip but a power hog compared to what could be deployed at 32-nm.

The Quark is fully synthesizable so it could, in theory, be built in other non-Intel foundaries but for now Intel is likely to be the only source since they are not letting that Quark source out. There will be well defined I/O but your IP will be connected to that core.

The pricing is on the order of $5 so this will not make any microcontroller device vendor shudder but it is obviously targeted at the lucrative market that Arm and MIPS have made in power sensitive arenas.

Quark could simply be a blip. That has happened before. Then again, Intel may have lined up a couple of big names that will be able to take advantage of the platform. What isn't on the menu, thus far, is a standard version of the Quark with a fixed set of bells and whistles that developers would utilize.

The 2-in-1 Phoenix And The Rise of Windows 8.1

Bay Trail is where the money is or will be this winter when the flood of updated ultrabooks and tablets arrive with the new, at least in name, 2-in-1 devices (Fig. 3). These the the laptops a'la tablets or tablets with snap-and-click keyboards. You know, the ones in the Windows 8/Surface commercials.

Figure 3. Tablets and 2-in-1 laptops were all the rage (again) but with Windows 8.1 and Android to power them.

The difference this time around it Bay Trail and Windows 8.1 that just went RTM (release to manufacturing) recently (see Gallery 3 For Intel Developer Forum 2013). Bay Trail ups the performance and cuts the power using the Silvermont architecture. The 22-nm chip doubles the compute power and triples the graphics support with a 10 hour run time for the typical 2-in-1 device.

Windows 8.1 got top billing but Android was prominent and Intel's Android development tools were out in force on the show floor. More about those in a future blog. If you want a peek, check out the Hardware Accelerated Execution Manager (Intel HAXM).

The 2-in-1 devices will look very similar or identical to those on display last year. They were nice then but the software polish this year makes all the difference. Windows 8.1 with its updated tablet-aware applications could make or break this arena. Windows 8.1 addresses many of the past complaints and this is one of them. Essentially the layout of an application changes depending upon the primary input device. Fingers/tablets get big buttons and text. Keyboards/mice get small buttons and small text.

This is actually a big deal for someone like myself with large fingers. The only solution with Windows 8 was to change the logical screen size so all the text was large. The buttons followed suit. It is not bad if you only use the device in one manner but those that switch been full tablet mode and keyboard/mouse mode will definitely appreciate the new software.

Servers And More

Xeons are still doing the heavy lifting the cloud but there are Atoms buzzing all around. This is where the Intel's C2000 (see 8-Core Atom Expands Intel’s Server Strategy) was making lots of ripples on the show floor because there was real hardware. NEC had a rack-based system that packs C2000 processors on blades that fit into the rack (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. NEC was showing a prototype of a rack of C2000 blades.

The approach of packing hundreds of low power cores like the C2000 is not new. AMD’s SeaMicro did it with dual core Atoms (see 768 Cores And Counting). Now many companies are looking to put a lot of smaller, low power cores into a single system. The interconnect may be custom, like AMD’s, or standard like Gigabit Ethernet. Hewlett-Packard was at IDF with its Moonshot. Moonshot differs in that it provides multiple interconnects to each blade. For example, it has Gigabit Ethernet links from redundant switches to each blade. There is an IPMI network for management. Also, each blade has a direct link to each nearest neighbor. These links can be used by most high speed interconnects like InfiniBand or Serial Rapid IO.

Super Micro Computer’s (Supermicro) SuperServer 5018A-TN4 uses a C2750, 8-core SoC that uses only 20 W (Fig. 5). This is a more typical configuration for the C2000. This fits in a 1U rack. Other form factors like Mini-ITX were common as well. There were Intel NUC (next unit of computing) boxes with these and smaller Atom processors as well (see What’s The Difference Between Mini-ITX And Intel’s NUC Platform?).

Figure 5. Supermicro’s SuperServer 5018A-TN4 uses a C2750, 8-core SoC that uses only 20 W.

There were lots of heavy duty servers as well with Intel Xeon’s and AMD Opterons. One variation we have seen before was Xilinx with their FPGAs attached directly to Xeon processors using QPI (see Different Takes On New Server Tech). They have updated the platform so it could bring in data directly from an outside interface. Altera was showing off a similar configuration but its FGPA was also provide cache coherent DRAM support. Normally the Xeon provides a NUMA-style memory configuration so each processor has access to the entire memory space but maintains a fraction of it locally. Now FPGAs can do the same thing. This greatly simplifies programming and hardware design.

DDR4 is on the horizon and there were vendors at IDF showing off controllers, buffer, chips and DIMMs. SK Hynix was showing off chips and DIMMs (Fig. 6). Of course, they could not show the Intel processor that goes with it because it has not been formally announced yet. That was one secret that Intel did not let out yet.

Figure 6. SK Hynix had DDR4 DIMMs actually running but like most of those doing the same they could only show the DIMMs. Not the new Intel microprocessor.  

The last thing I will mention is Thunderbolt. This is the interface that mixes DisplayPort and PCI Express over a serial link. There were a number of vendors highlighting their wares but Thunderbolt has yet to generate lots of general interest. On the other hand, there are a number of niches that are cropping up including video capture and editing. This is because its low latency and synchronization that USB 3.0 lacks. Corning was one of the vendors showing off a fiber Thunderbolt cable that can be up to 100 meters in length.

As I mentioned earlier, there was way too much to see and talk about at IDF 2013 so stay tuned.

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