IDF 2014: The Next Generation Of PCs Will Be Truly Wireless, Space-Aware

Kirk Skaugen, general manager of the Client PC Group at Intel, talks about Core M, RealSense and the advent of wireless desktop

Intel continued to lay out its vision for the future of PCs on the second day of Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in San Francisco.

Whereas some hardware manufacturers have tried to distance themselves from the term ‘PC’, proclaiming we have entered the ‘post-PC’ era as the sales of traditional desktops and laptops went plummeting, Intel continues to use it in a broader sense. For the company, PCs include not just desktops  and laptops, but also tablets, 2-in-1 and All-in-One devices.

Intel’s general manager of the Client PC Group Kirk Skaugen was especially enthusiastic about 2-in-1s, describing them as “a tablet when you want it, laptop when you need it”. Earlier this ear, Microsoft used similar wording to promote its Surface Pro 3. According to Skaugen, the latest generation of Intel chips, namely Atom and Core M, are erasing the boundaries between different types of personal computing devices by enabling OEMs to build thinner, lighter but more powerful machines that don’t require active cooling.

Dozens of new Core M devices from manufacturers including HP, Acer, Asus and Lenovo are set to go on sale before the end of the year.

Skagen also revealed more details about how Intel was planning to introduce wireless technologies for display connections, docking, file transfer and charging.

Hardcore M

Core M, built on the 14nm process, is Intel’s first new ‘PC’ brand in five years. These chips are not meant as a replacement for Atom – they will power premium devices that are so thin they can’t possibly fit a full-sized USB port.

BlackburnAccording to Intel’s internal benchmarking, tablets built on Core M offer twice the performance of a CPU and seven times the performance of the GPU when compared to a high-end laptop bought four years ago. The new devices double the battery life, but are fanless and as a result- completely silent. By making this weird comparison, the company sends a clear message – it wants you to upgrade, and the new hardware will appear on sale in time for the holiday season.

Skaugen revealed that Intel and its partners are building software bundles for SMBs that will be pre-loaded on some of the enterprise-focused Core M devices.

Next, it was turn for Intel’s most powerful desktop chip – the i7-5960X Extreme Edition, which features support for DDR4 and offers 40 PCIe lanes, enough to fit four discrete video cards. Skagen used this piece of silicon to run the latest installment of the Tomb Raider gaming franchise across three displays with 4K resolution each. That’s 11,520×2,160 pixels rendered in real-time at 60 frames per second.

Why test it on a game? According to Intel, today one in ten people on the planet actively plays PC games, and the enthusiast market is extremely important for the company. The i7-5960X itself was launched at PAX Prime in Seattle, one of the most important gaming events of the year.

widi-logo-320x160Skagen also shared more details on how Intel is going to eliminate wires from your computer desk. Very soon, some of the displays on sale will start carrying ‘Intel WiDi’ logo – a “sign of purity”, according to the executive, which shows that they can be connected wirelessly through the Miracast protocol. Intel expects 300 million WiDi PCs by the end of 2016, with WiDi Pro label reserved for business computers that offer an additional layer of security.

Meanwhile, the WiGig standard will be rolled out in corporate environments as a tool for simple device docking and file transfer. The final piece of the puzzle is Rezence wireless charging technology, capable of penetrating several inches of the table surface. Skaugen said the upcoming Skylake silicon architecture, set to debut in the second half of 2015, is being designed with all of these wireless features in mind.

Waiting for RealSense

During the presentation, a spokesman for the Emirates airline revealed its intention to become the first to offer wireless charging on some of its flights. The airline is also experimenting with Intel’s RealSense IR camera module as a tool to measure the dimensions of the plane cargo.

RealSense moduleRealSense (pictured left), which we saw in London in May, features an array of cameras and sensors that enable the PC to see the world in 3D. The modules can be used for biometric authentication, 3D scanning and gesture interfaces, among other things. They will be built into many upcoming tablets and laptops, based on both Windows and Android.

One of such devices is Dell Venue 8 7000 (pictured above) – an 8.4 inch tablet with a 2K display that’s just 6mm thin. For desktop users, several OEMs will ship stand-alone screen-mounted units.

Google is currently developing similar hardware for Android as part of Project Tango.

Skaugen said RealSense will enable completely new business models, like that of Volumental – a start-up that builds 3D body scanning apps for online retail capable of taking measurements for a tailor-made suit or accurately establishing the customer’s shoe size.

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