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New ultra-portable, sub-11-inch and very powerful notebook PCs are coming.

That’s thanks to Intel’s Project Athena. The project first crept into the news back in 2017, but without much detail. But this year at CES, Intel removed the wraps to reveal an incredible design that will provide the underpinning for these new ultra-portable notebooks.

Remember the giant push for Ultrabooks, circa 2011? This is going to be a lot like that. Only this time, the gear will be even smaller, lighter and faster.

Processing in 3D

The story of the upcoming Project Athena-class notebooks from Dell, HP, Lenovo and others is also a story about 3D chip technology.

Intel likely knew long ago that Moore’s Law would approach its end as the company’s fabrication process got more difficult. But it wasn’t until recently that Intel solved the puzzle of how to keep making smaller, more powerful chips. That solution came in the form of a vertical-stacking method that Intel calls Foveros.

Intel Foveros

Intel’s Foveros method stacks processing components

Instead of embedding components next to each other on a single silicon die, Forveros stacks the components, one on top of another. That also means more performance can be packed into a much smaller space.

Intel’s first Foveros-produced chip is codenamed Lakefield. It’s made up of 4 Atom cores atop 1 unidentified Sunny Cove processor.

Intel Lakefield

Lakefield, Intel’s new 3D chip, uses Foveros

Intel says we’ll see the new Lakefield chips in new ultrabooks toward the end of this year. If so, that will be just in time for the 2019 holiday shopping frenzy.

New ultrabooks

Intel’s Foveros method delivers several advantages that should enable manufacturers to rewrite the  book on ultrabooks. By stacking components on a single die, Foveros can leverage previous discreet designs, creating a new platform that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

For instance, components designed for 5G integration, artificial-intelligence management and advanced graphics can be stacked on a high-performance processor core. And the resulting package will create neither a larger footprint nor higher thermals, as it did previously.

That means PC devices can get smaller while also getting smarter. These new ultrabooks should have capabilities far beyond those of their predecessors. The very nature of mobile computing could improve dramatically in verticals that include healthcare, education and manufacturing.

Next steps

Is it weird to start looking beyond a product set that hasn’t even been released yet? Not if you’re in the tech biz. Foveros has far-reaching implications that could impact the PC and mobile device landscape for years to come.

As the 3D chip production process is further refined, manufacturers will have the tools to create a new array of very small, very powerful devices.

ASUS Project Precog dual-screen PC prototype

Foveros could power Project Precog dual-screen PC from ASUS (seen here in prototype)

We could see mobile tech with foldable screens, multi-screen clamshell designs with integrated AI and onboard Wi-Fi 6, and laptops with as much or more facility than current high-performance desktops. You could wake up one day to a fleet of 5G interconnected devices that mesh seamlessly with smart homes, virtual offices and autonomous vehicles.

This isn’t only an opportunity to prepare for the next generation of laptops. It’s also an opportunity for you and your customers to imagine a future of tiny PCs — and huge profits.

 

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