IDF Rattner Keynote: Digital Radios and Spring Meadow

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Last winter, Intel made waves by demonstrating a number of cutting-edge technologies it believed could drive the next-generation of lower power devices. In addition to its pioneering work with Near Threshold Voltages, the company showed off Rosepoint -- a prototype SoC that combined a dual-core 32nm Atom with an all-digital radio. As we covered at the time, current radios use a mixture of analog and digital circuitry, with the analog side of the equation consuming disproportionately more power and board real estate.



Today, Intel demo'd Rosepoint in functional hardware. While the company still hasn't committed to a schedule for bringing the dual-core SoC to market, a live tech demo is a way to prove that the hardware is functional and capable of transmitting and receiving data.  Here's the highlight reel... 


This video shows a streaming film being beamed across stage. When Rattner covers one end of the array with both hands, the stream cuts out. Integrating these components together in a single chip was challenging due to the CPU and radio blocks having a tendency to interfere with each other.





Intel's new focus on digitizing and improving traditionally analog designs is driven by two facts. First, as CPU power consumption drops from generation to generation, other components become major stumbling blocks in the quest to build lower-power devices. Second, being able to offer an integrated all-digital radio with equal-or-superior performance characteristics gives the company a unique hook for its hardware. Intel is still struggling to achieve market share in cell phones, so innovations like Rosepoint are vitally important.

The second major update Intel gave today was on the company's Smart Connect Mobile Technology, codenamed Spring Meadow. Unlike Rosepoint, which is still an early phase product, Smart Connect is already baked into a number of Intel products. Spring Meadow is an update to the existing technology expected to roll out with Haswell.




The idea behind Smart Connect is that laptops could behave a lot more like mobile phones. Traditionally, laptops -- even laptops that are programmed to sleep after 10-15 minutes -- remain awake for long periods when they aren't used and can't be updated while asleep.  Haswell-based devices will incorporate support for new sleep modes to help address the first problem; Intel's existing Smart Connect technology attacks the second.

A laptop without Smart Connect has to remain in idle-but-awake mode in order to receive real-time status or program updates. Put the system to sleep, and programs will lag at wake-up as they fetch all available updates, tweets, and messages. Smart Connect addresses this by waking the system periodically, downloading / applying various updates, and then going back to sleep.

Intel's Spring Meadow update to Smart Connect saves power by cutting back on how often it spins up the wireless radio. Look at packet reception/transmission rates between the two platforms, and you'll see that Spring Meadow has been put on a hefty diet. CPU-side improvements also reduce power consumption by increasing the number of specific areas that can be deactivated when the CPU is idling.



Between the two, Intel clearly sees a future in which we treat laptops with the same "always-on" casualness with which we use smartphones, possibly returning them to the cradle overnight only to pick them up in the AM and not worry about battery life for the rest of the day. 

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More and more functionality on less and less space using less and less energy to accomplish the same or more things at once. BEAUTIFUL!

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