Anyone trying to follow announcements out of the Intel Developer Forum this week can be forgiven for developing a headache:
One Day. Four Keynotes. Infinite Leaps. [Intel.com]
Infinite leaps? I think maybe Intel’s going a little nuts now that they’re working with Apple, headquartered on Infinite Loop. (Only Apple would name their office drive after a programming bug.) But read between the lines, and you’ll see the real story for PC users (and now Mac users, too): more music-friendly laptops and mobile computers, and more studio-friendly desktops. It’s all about power efficiency.
The big story has been new small, low-power Windows tablets, aka Origami, as covered on Gizmodo. I like the idea of tablets for music making: they’re great for use with soft synths, and a bigger tablet is ideal for music notation. (I know people who set them right on their music stand.) But, unless these tablets could act as a remote for a more powerful rack-mounted PC, via VNC or Remote Desktop, perhaps, they’re unlikely to be very useful for music from what I’ve seen (more on that soon).
No, I think the underlying story is even simpler when it comes to music: low power, high performance is a good thing. (See Intel’s press release on their updated Core architecture. Good name, even if they spelled it wrong.) Lower power / low heat means we’ll see more of them in laptops and other smaller form factors, perfect as laptop music making and performing with soft synths, just as these fields are (finally) maturing. This could be the year in which onstage laptops hit the musical mainstream. And the same architecture could drive Windows- or Windows Mobile-powered music devices, beyond just the bulky PC/musical hybrid monsters we’ve seen so far. Imagine a portable music recorder running Windows Mobile, or a keyboard with built-in soft synths that’s the size of current compact controllers.
Lastly, you can’t overstate the importance of low power consumption for studio-friendly computers. Low power means less heat, which means less fans, which means less noise. Computers have been way too noisy for most recording work; I’ve even had laptops screw up recordings. You can buy $1,000 cabinets to sound-proof them, but who wants to do that?
So there you go: still more evidence why I should never go into marketing. Intel says “infinite leaps.” I say “fewer fans!”
That said, AMD has had its own low-power initiative, and is arguably in the lead at the moment in terms of shipping products, so the real question will be to watch after the Intel event and see how this plays out. We should know more by about summer.