Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: Intel's play for a slice of the connected gadget pie

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Launch of the Zenbo robotic butler at Computex 2016.
Launch of the Zenbo robotic butler at Computex 2016.

ASUS founder Johnny Shih and Intel client computing boss Navin Shenoy launch the Zenbo robotic butler at Computex 2016, Taipei.

Will the Internet of Things, wearables and cloud computing shore up chip giant Intel's business? That's a question the island nation of Taiwan, home to the world's PC manufacturers, would love to know the answer to.

The Taiwanese will have to wait and see, but not even a 6.1 magnitude earthquake that briefly rocked the country's capital Taipei could halt Intel from presenting its vision for the future, with Virtual Reality visors, backpack computers,, 5G wireless networking and small, low cost chips processing vast amounts of sensor-collected data.

There is a sense of urgency here for Intel.

Continuing declining PC sales means it has not been an easy year for Intel, and a worse one for the company's employees. In April this year, Intel said it would make 12,000 people around the world redundant, or 11 per cent of the workforce as lower profits bit and costs had to be cut.

As a result, Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich has decided that low cost, high volume IoT components is where money will be made. It's a deep transformation for Intel that has in the past enjoyed high margins on the x86 architecture processors that dominate the PC market in every segment.

It will also lead to a de-emphasis on Intel as a brand, as IoT customers are unlikely to care what make chips their devices and components contain, unlike desktop and laptop PCs that are still sold based on the type of processor they're built around.

Which is not to say Intel has abandoned its traditional PC market. The company released a the desktop Broadwell-E Core i7 processors, including the Extreme Edition 6950X with ten cores that is aimed at gaming, virtual reality and editing of multiple high resolution video streams. These new chips are said to be a third faster than the current generation of Intel desktop processors.

For everyday computing, Intel and its partners hope that customers will pick a 2-in-1 laptop instead of clinging onto their old but adequate portables or worse, switch to an ARM-based tablet. Many of the major PC makers had refreshed 2-in-1 systems with detachable screens, including Dell that floated huge, 17-inch Inspiron 7000 and 5000 series laptops.

On the server side, Intel's dipping its toes into application specific waters with a new Xeon E3-1500 processor. This features built-in optimisations for streaming video delivery from the cloud, thanks to improved compression and encoding circuitry.

The idea here is that the new more capable Xeon will mean lower capital expenditure with fewer servers required, and also running costs, as less power is required.

The elephant in the room is of course the mobility arena. This all-important segment does not have Intel Inside, despite several tries.

Instead, UK chip designer ARM stole the mobility limelight at Computex with its new Cortex-A73 processor, which you'll see in VR-ready smartphones from next year onwards.

The Cortex-A73 promises a thirty per cent performance increase over the current generation of ARM processors, on the back of a thirty per cent reduction in power consumption. Early benchmarks suggest the Cortex-A73 could rival the performance of relatively new laptop processors, and there's a substantially faster Mali graphics unit on the chip that Google has had input with, for VR use.

ARM processor designs getting faster while maintaining low power usage pushes them into the good-enough space for general applications beyond smartphones, and that is something Intel will have to watch out for.

Juha Saarinen travelled to Computex 2016 as a guest of Intel Asia-Pacific.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

Read more by Juha Saarinen

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