The chip IS the computer

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

May 8, 2019

via Flickr © IntelFreePress (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © IntelFreePress (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Silicon specialists like Intel and Qualcomm can call the shots like never before
  • Now Intel is setting requirements and specifications to shepherd OEMs towards consistent premium device performance
  • This is all good for telecoms - increasing the likelihood that users will have laptop devices capable of doing justice to nextgen network-enabled applications

It used to be that OEMs were the industry’s product differentiators, as the term ‘original equipment manufacturer’ implies. But silicon advances are putting that definition on the skids. Blistering performance derived from ever more ‘nano’ multi-core, multi-function chips mean that much of an end-device’s capabilities today are baked into the silicon.

The result can be a system on a chip that, for an OEM, is a game-changer. Where they previously had to source multiple components and stitch them together and/or spend considerable sums up-front to have custom ASICs produced, now they can often find eagerly anticipated ‘off the shelf’ chips that can do the core job in one silicon hit, greatly diminishing the development effort. That seems to be putting the chip designers in charge.

It’s great for OEMs in our neck of the woods looking to crash the cost barrier for original equipment aimed at (hopefully) high-growth product categories (such as small cells).

But such developments also change the relationship between silicon specialists on one side and software and hardware engineers on the other. In a nutshell, because chip designers are ‘designing in’ complex functions and capabilities, they need to understand much more about the end applications, not just where they are, but where they are going.

And OEMs must design their products with knowledge of where the silicon provider is going too.

And to do that silicon specialists have traditionally used close contact with, and input from, customers and component suppliers through any number of formal or informal arrangements.  

Nowhere has that dynamic been more apparent than in what we, from our perspective, call the end-user device segment where devices’ core processing units must integrate with a plethora of third party components, and just as importantly, all the moving parts have to develop cohesively going forward.

To get ahead of the curve and better integrate its efforts with PC OEMs and component specialists (and vice versa), Intel has developed something called Project Athena which essentially lays down a set of requirements for partner brands in the laptop segment. Shades of ‘Intel Inside’? (maybe this is Intel inside, outside and beyond). Intel calls them “Athena design specifications and target experiences” to be incorporated into products in 2020.  We are talking here about laptops and Chromebooks and similar, and the OEMs that have bought in so far include the likes of Acer, Asus, Dell, Google, HP, Huawei, Lenovo, Samsung and Microsoft.

Source: Intel

Source: Intel

There are requirements and there’s also assistance. Intel will help partners with white papers, reference designs and so on.

Now Intel has just revealed plans for its ‘Project Athena Open Labs’ programme  which will, in many ways, make Athena real. Essentially it’s taking its engineers to where the partners are by setting up labs in ‘key ecosystem hubs’ in Taipei, Shanghai and Folsom, California “to support performance and low-power optimization of vendor components for laptops”.

Intel says the labs represent an “expanded level of integration with the PC ecosystem” which will “accelerate the development of advanced laptop designs and capabilities by adding greater efficiency to the component selection process for OEMs, and by enabling a continuous cycle of tuning and testing based on real workloads and usage models.”

Independent hardware vendors (IHVs) will have the opportunity to submit parts for compliance assessment via Project Athena Open Labs, and Intel’s OEM partners can also nominate preferred component vendors for participation.

Each lab is supported by experienced engineers to test, tune and provide recommendations to improve power and performance capabilities across a broad range of laptop components and categories, such as audio, display, embedded controllers, haptics, SSDs and wireless.

Partners can come into the labs year-round for component assessment.

“Every component within a laptop affects the user experience, from power consumption to responsiveness and beyond,” says Intel. “Enabling component vendor assessment, tuning and compliance at the Open Labs will help drive consistency in delivering the best technologies and early alignment and enablement at the component level sets a strong foundation for OEM design readiness and implementation to help ensure systems meet Project Athena experience targets.”

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.