Intel extends 45nm embedded life-cycle

Intel has decided to increase the sales lifetime of its latest PC processors for the embedded market from five to seven years and developed a specialised chipset to support them that should cut overall power consumption

A couple of months on from the launch of its quad-core processors for desktop systems, Intel has said it will provide embedded versions the same parts in terms of technical features but with guarantees over the length of time for which they will be available. However, one of the support chipsets has been modified to use a different form of memory from the desktop version because it results in lower power consumption.

Joe Jensen, general manager of the embedded products division at Intel said at the Embedded World show: "The life-cycle is a critical element for some of our customers."

Jensen said the decision to increase the guaranteed life-cycle of the latest embedded products was to satisfy the customers it has in the communications sector: "Comms customers say seven years is what they like." He emphasised that the period only relates to the guarantee that Intel provides at launch: in reality, as long as demand is there and the fab lines producing older parts is economic, the company will continue to make parts that disappeared from PCs years ago.

"The feedback we got from customers was that, even at five years we were becoming more reliable than many of their suppliers. There are no plans to stop manufacturing after seven years. As long as we can keep a factory open we will. We expect to be making some of these for ten years."

Jensen questioned how many sectors would need the guaranteed seven years, as many embedded-systems markets are coming under pressure to provide more regular upgrades. "When I first started driving Pentium in the embedded market, customers said they wanted ten years. Now, the situation is that, after seven years, their product is probably going to be highly obsolete. If you keep shipping last year's platform, you are going to get farther and farther behind."

The processor is not the only consideration in governing the effective life-cycle of the hardware. "Memory longevity is an issue," said Jensen, who defended the decision to provide the support chipset with DDR2 DRAM support in place of the FD DIMM interface that the desktop systems use. "FD DIMM power consumption was too high," said Jensen. He acknowledged that production of DDR2 is likely to fall as systems shift to DDR3 some memory makers have accelerated DDR3 development to improve their margins in recent months. "We believe it is too early to move onto the next thing," he claimed.

Image: An original Pentium sitting on top of a wafer of the latest 45nm Intel processors, now being steered into the embedded market

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