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Can IDF relight Intel's fire?

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San Francisco (CA) - The Spring Intel Developer Forum (IDF) will open its doors on Tuesday and will give Intel an opportunity to set the stage for its next generation micro architecture. But this IDF is not just about new products - it's about an effort to regain the trust from hardware and software developers as well as analysts into the firm's products. Here's what we expect to see at the conference.

IDF doesn't arrive a single month too early. In a time when Intel is battling declining demand for its products on the one side and an aggressive AMD that is taking over market shares on the other, the event will attract the attention of thousands of hardware and software developers, analysts and the global IT press. It will be the firm's opportunity to present a new vision that will lead the company through the rest of the decade.

We already know that Intel will be answering AMD in the third and fourth quarter of this year. In recent articles we already provided details on Intel's upcoming product line. But we doubt that plain product announcements will be enough to spark new excitement for the brand among developers, analysts and journalists. We expect Intel to come out in full force to unveil new technologies that will turn around the boat and will have a significant impact on how we use server, desktop and notebook systems. Here are the key questions that will be answered over the next few days:

Is NGMA the architecture Intel should have introduced five years ago?

NGMA stands for Next Generation Micro Architecture, a new processor architecture that will surface first in the Merom (mobile), Conroe (desktop) and Woodcrest (volume and performance server) processors later this year. The core of NGMA is much closer to the technology of the Pentium III than to the Pentium 4, which is responsible for much of the trouble Intel is going through today. Simply speaking, we are looking at a processor design that is based on the Pentium III-related Pentium M foundation and some Pentium 4 extensions.

For the first time, Intel has developed a mobile processor to serve as the core for virtually all upcoming processors (through at least 2008). Merom, which will be named Core Duo T7000 series when introduced in October of this year, will succeed today's Core Duo T2xxx processor series. Conroe, likely to be named the Core Duo E5000 and E6000 series, will be a Merom-based spin-off for desktop computers that will offer slightly higher clock speeds than the mobile chip. Woodcrest, which will be called the Xeon 5100 series, is the server variant. All three CPUs are expected to post substantially more processing capability per clock cycle than the Pentium 4. Power consumption for the mainstream desktop and server will be cut in half to 65 and 80 watts, respectively.

IDF will provide us a first look at NGMA and allow us more than just guesstimates on how capable the Athlon X2 and Opteron challengers really are.

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Can Microsoft's Origami create a new handheld category?

If you have read our ongoing coverage on Microsoft's mysterious Origami handheld, then it is no secret to you that this device is very likely nothing else than Microsoft's version of Intel's Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) platform. It is unlikely that we will see Origami at IDF, as Microsoft apparently is planning an announcement for the first day of the CeBit tradeshow (9 March). But since Intel is credited with developing the hardware platform, there will be several other UMPCs on display. Sources told us that Samsung, Asus and Founder will be the first manufacturers to ship UMPCs.

The devices will be based an a ULV Pentium M processor and Windows XP. UMPCs will integrate a range of wireless features (Wi-Fi, HSDPA and/or EVDO, GPS) and are expected to be available for purchase later this month for prices below $600.

We have seen several attempts in the past that aimed to create new product categories between the PDA/cellphone and notebook. In each case, those revolutionary devices have turned out to be niche market products - such as the general tablet PC and the OQO - and we are anxious to see how the form factor and the features of the UMPC will differ from the devices available today. Needless to say, we hope that Samsung & Co have abandoned the ugly design of last year's Strawberry UMPC prototype.

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Clues point to March 9 launch for Microsoft / Intel mobile PC platform
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Another *T: Will La Grande be an acceptable DRM technology?

With Windows Vista being prepped for an early October launch, it is time to unveil yet another platform component. "*T" is Intel's general term for platform technologies such as VT (virtualization), AMT (active management) - and LT (La Grande). Some details about La Grande have been around for the past five years, but the technology never made it into a public discussion.

LT is Intel's interpretation of a digital rights management technology, which apparently is based on a common specification of the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) and a trusted platform module (TPM) that will be located on a motherboard. In combination with Microsoft's "Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) - the technology will have a major influence on how we will be able to use software as well as digital content in the future.

TPMs are already supported in Intel's current ICH7 Southbridge and are expected to appear in mainstream computers in the time frame of the launch of Windows Vista. Questions on how the system will present itself to the user and how it will interact with high definition media and other DRM platforms should be answered at this IDF for the first time.

We are pretty sure that Intel will have plenty of other news surrounding topics such as wireless broadband and wireless personal area networks, the firm's next XScale processor for cellphones and an update for the entertainment platform Viiv. But clearly, the focus will be NGMA, which could prompt AMD, which has set up camp in a hotel nearby the conference center, to release a few more details on its plans to counter Merom, Conroe and Woodcrest later this year.

TG Daily will be reporting from IDF throughout this week.

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