Next week AMD will blitz the high-performance PC market with the launch of its Athlon 64 processor, but this week Intel Corp. is enjoying the spotlight -- and telling PC manufacturers and users what comes after the Hyper-Threading Technology of today's desktop Pentium 4 and workstation/server Xeon CPUs.
The silicon giant kicked off the fall edition of its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Jose, Calif., with a pair of keynote presentations that ranged from promises of four processor cores in one chip to a new Pentium 4 Extreme Edition for enthusiast PCs (read: preemptive strike against the Athlon 64).
IDF is always a showplace for new technologies and Intel-endorsed wanna-be standards. Some, after kicking around for a couple of years, are close to reality: With help from ATI Technologies, Intel vice president and Desktop Platforms Group co-general manager Louis Burns presented the first demonstration of a graphics controller based on the new PCI Express interconnect specification. The latter is expected to replace today's AGP bus beginning next year; the PCI-SIG industry association has announced its first PCI Express product-testing compliance workshop for December 15-17 in Milpitas, Calif.
Both PCI Express and USB 2.0 interfaces are built into ExpressCard (formerly called NewCard), a faster serial successor to today's parallel PC Card or PCMCIA expansion standard that should appear in both laptops and desktops in the second half of 2004. ExpressCard add-ins will come in two sizes -- each 3 inches long, but 1.33 and 2.13 inches wide for most products and those with CompactFlash or 1.8-inch hard disk storage, respectively.
Other standards are still in the wishful-thinking stage, such as Balanced Technology Extended (BTX), which Intel talked up last year under the name "Big Water" -- a more compact successor to the venerable ATX motherboard form factor, supporting both traditional chassis and suggesting an (Intel-directed) standard for the quieter, small-form-factor PCs already emerging from vendors like Shuttle and VIA with their respective XPC and Mini-ITX designs.
Eric Grevstad is managing editor of sister site CPU Planet.