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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 16:06 GMT
Future of processing power
Intel's processors have been enabling programs to run on PCs for 25 years. BBC Click Online's Stephen Cole spoke to Craig Barrett, Intel's president and CEO, about what we might expect from the years to come.

Craig Barrett
Craig Barrett: no one device is going to be at the centre
Stephen Cole:

The Intel 4004 was the first micro-processor in the world - used as the brain for a calculating machine.

Intel carried on making chips, and were soon making processors for the fantastically successful PC market.

And the development simply hasn't stopped. From 16 bits to 32 bits to 64 bits - where will it end?

Craig Barrett:

I think you'll see a continuation of the trends that have already started.

If you look at desktop computing: more and more processing power, probably a movement away from static desktops to mobile computing and more wireless capability, and in the home I think you'll see more and more wireless interaction between computers, consumer electronic devices, more rich content coming into the home and either intelligent set top boxes or computers repositioning that content, moving it from the standard TV to other TVs, to other screens, to other speakers, to other consumer electronic devices.

Stephen Cole:

All controlled with one device?

Craig Barrett:

Not necessarily. I think you're going to have a collection of devices, a ring of devices in the home.

I think anyone who says: "My device or his device is going to be the central point in the home" is foolish.

I don't think anyone is going to control the situation. If you talk to Sony they would say the TV is at the centre; if you talk to Nokia they say the cell phone is at the centre; if you talk to Dell they say the PC is at the centre.

I think really all of those devices will co-exist - and the important thing is that they do co-exist.

Stephen Cole:

What kind of developments are we likely to see in notebooks over the next few months, maybe years?

Craig Barrett:

I think we'll see a continuation of the developments we've already had: thinner, lighter, longer battery life, more processing power, better connectivity, a variety of connectivity types.

We've been talking for years about wireless capability and there are different forms of wireless.

You can have very local area connectivity between a notebook computer and a consumer electronics device - a digital video camera or something of that sort.

You can have connectivity between your notebook computer and the local area network - a wi-fi network that you find at Starbucks, a train station or an airport terminal. In the future you're going to have connectivity between your notebook and a wide area network.

Stephen Cole:

Connectivity that actually works? We're supposed to be in a wi-fi hotspot here and I couldn't get a laptop to work outside!

Craig Barrett:

That must not have been an Intel Centrino mobile technology laptop! Sometimes it is hit and miss.

What you would love to have is the seamless connectivity from a very, very local area network to a wi-fi network of say 100 metres to a 3G or a wi-max metropolitan area network that would be 30 or 40 miles.

That would be progress - especially if the computer were to sense the network, and automatically configure and connect to the best connection possible. And that's going to be with us in one to two years.

Stephen Cole:

The one thing people ask you for: more processing power, more capability
Craig Barrett, Intel
That soon?

Craig Barrett:

Mobility is what people want. People don't want to be tied to a cord or a wire. They want to be free to move.

Stephen Cole:

And you also think they want limitless power. I'm thinking about Moore's law of doubling processing power every 18 months. That's not sustainable, is it?

Craig Barrett:

People have been saying it's not sustainable for 30 years.

Stephen Cole:

But is it sustainable to continue doubling every 18 months?

Craig Barrett:

Moore's law was coined in 1965, on the basis of observations that Gordon Moore [the co-founder of Intel] made as far back as 1960.

We're now in 2005, 45 years later. We're still on track, and we can see our way to be on track from a technology standpoint for another 15 years or so.

Stephen Cole:

But as time goes on do the hurdles get higher, to achieve the doubling?

Craig Barrett:

The engineering difficulty increases. The research and development costs increase. The manufacturing and infrastructure costs increase.

But that's been happening for 40 years. The first manufacturing facility that Intel had cost in total less than the cafeteria cost for our current manufacturing facilities.

Stephen Cole:

Does the consumer want this limitless power on his desktop?

Craig Barrett:

The consumer continues to take as much processing power as we can handle.

If you talk to game manufacturers, if you talk to people who are moving content around, people who want to stitch digital images together into 3-dimentional images, or stitch a series of digital images together, the one thing they ask you for: more processing power, more capability.

I don't see any immediate end to that.

Eventually it will end. None of these things go on for ever, but for 30 years there has been a steady constant demand for more capability, more memory, more bandwidth, more computer power.

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.

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