There’s always a lot of focus at IDF on Intel’s processor roadmap. What’s the next CPU? How is Moore’s Law progressing? What’s the next tick or tock in Intel’s clockwork process for advancing design and manufacturing?
Having a fast CPU is great, but you need an underlying support structure to get the most out of that processor. Whether it’s a fast GPU, like ATI’s spiffy new Radeon HD 5870, the imminent release of SATA 6 Gb/s hard drives (and the motherboards to support them), or the penetration of DisplayPort into the mainstream, supporting technologies are the underlying infrastructure that actually enables a PC to be useful.
We’ll also take a quick look at Moorestown, Intel’s next-generation Atom processor. Surprisingly, Moorestown will bear little resemblance to the existing Atom platform (code-named Menlow), other than being an x86 CPU. But first, let’s look at DisplayPort.
DisplayPort will eventually be the replacement for DVI and, we can fervently hope, the ever-present analog VGA connector. One of the more intriguing features of DisplayPort is that clocking is embedded in the data signal. What does this mean?
This use of an embedded timing source is one of the key hardware drivers behind AMD’s Eyefinity technology. Right now, a dual-display DVI card has a separate timing signal per DVI port, so you can connect to two displays. The recently-shipping AMD Radeon HD 5870 can connect up to three displays on any combination of the included DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI connectors.
However, the Radeon HD 5870 has only two built-in display timing sources. If you want to connect three DVI displays, you actually need to get what’s known as an active DVI-to-DisplayPort adapter. On the other hand, if one of your displays has a DisplayPort connector, it can take advantage of the 5870's additional DisplayPort pipelines without the necessity for a third timing source. At some point, AMD will be shipping a card with six DisplayPort outputs capable of utilizing all six of the Cypress chip's pipelines, which is how they can connect as many displays.
DisplayPort also has the bandwidth to handle very high resolutions with a single DisplayPort link. Moreover, DisplayPort will be embedded into notebook panels, which will finally replace the aging LVDS standard. The result will be higher refresh rates and higher resolutions on the road. DisplayPort even has capability for 3D displays by allowing for left/right eye channel implementations.
DisplayPort looks to be the most important connectivity standard for the PC since the emergence of DVI. Its impact may, in the long run, be bigger than HDMI (at least on the desktop; HDMI is more of a consumer electronic interface), though it won’t supplant HDMI. More likely is that the VGA and, eventually, the DVI port, will finally fade away.
SATA 6 Gb/s
So far, all the demos we’ve seen of the latest update to the Serial ATA standard, SATA 6 Gb/s, have been with rotating media. That’s right--we’ll soon see several families of good old hard drives running on the latest SATA standard. Both Asus and Gigabyte are now shipping motherboards with SATA 6 Gb/s controllers built onto the main board, and these were on display at the show as well.
Why rotating media? As it turns out, hard drive densities are going up at a rapid rate and cache sizes are increasing. Seagate, for one, foresees a time when data streaming off the outer tracks of a high capacity hard drive can actually saturate a 3gbps interface. Of course, RAID striping and fast SSDs will also likely saturate the bus.
Already, Seagate has announced a premium, 2TB drive with 64MB of cache, with a SATA 6gbps interface built in. That interface is backward compatible to SATA 3gbps and SATA 1.5gbps.