The “Post-PC” Era: It’s Real, But It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

Computing is changing. The news last week showed that loud and clear, as Microsoft bet big on Skype’s voice and video technology and Google announced partnerships with Samsung and Acer to build laptops running its Chrome operating system. These developments point to a future where computing form factors, interfaces, and operating systems diversify beyond even what we have today. The “Post-PC Era” is underway, but its definition is not self-evident.

First, some history. “Post-PC” has been a buzzword in the past few months, since Steve Jobs announced at the iPad 2 launch event that Apple now gets a majority of its revenue from “post-PC devices,” including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad—a major milestone for a company that was originally named “Apple Computer.” The phrase was also part of the public discourse in 2004, when IBM sold its PC unit and former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz told The New York Timesthat “We've been in the post-PC era for four years now,” noting that wireless mobile handset sales had already far surpassed PC sales around the world. In fact, the “post-PC” concept is more than a decade old: In 1999, MIT research scientist David Clark gave a talk called “The Post PC Internet,” describing a future point at which objects like wristwatches and eyeglasses would be Internet-connected computing devices.

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Intel Shows the Way Forward, Demos 22 nm Parts with Breakthrough Semiconductor Design

What Intel said and showed

Intel has been publishing research for about a decade on what they call “3D Trigate” transistors, which held out the hope for both improved performance as well as power efficiency. Today Intel revealed details of its commercialization of this research in its upcoming 22 nm process as well as demonstrating actual systems based on 22 nm CPU parts.

The new products, under the internal name of “Ivy Bridge”, are the process shrink of the recently announced Sandy Bridge architecture in the next “Tock” cycle of the famous Intel “Tick-Tock” design methodology, where the “Tick” is a new optimized architecture and the “Tock” is the shrinking of this architecture onto then next generation semiconductor process.

What makes these Trigate transistors so innovative is the fact that they change the fundamental geometry of the semiconductors from a basically flat “planar” design to one with more vertical structure, earning them the description of “3D”. For users the concepts are simpler to understand – this new transistor design, which will become the standard across all of Intel’s products moving forward, delivers some fundamental benefits to CPUs implemented with them:

  • Leakage current is reduced to near zero, resulting in very efficient operation for system in an idle state.
  • Power consumption at equivalent performance is reduced by approximately 50% from Sandy Bridge’s already improved results with its 32 nm process.
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