While much of the innovation these days seems to be happening in smartphones and tablets, Intel says big improvements lie ahead for the trusty PC.
In the next two years, mainstream laptops will get thinner and lighter, run all day on a single battery charge, have touchscreens, get instant-on capabilities and run multiple OSes, all without compromising performance, CEO Paul Otellini said at the company's financial analyst day. "This is not just about evolving the PC. This is about reinventing the PC into a much more consumer electronics-like device," Otellini said.
Some of the developments are probably being driven by tablets and smartphones, particularly Apple's iPhone and iPad, as people become accustomed to computers that start instantly at the press of a button.
While Intel hurries to develop chips that are better suited to smaller devices, it still maintains that PCs will play a central role. "People want to create, and we still look at tablet PCs more as sort of consuming devices," said Dadi Perlmutter, joint head of the Intel Architecture Group.
Intel didn't talk about any specific PCs in the pipeline, but Otellini said the changes will come with "Windows 8, Windows 9 and beyond."
Intel also showed off some new technologies for PCs that it is developing in its labs. It didn't say when any of them would be ready for market.
One, called Fast Flash Standby, aims to make the "hibernate" power saving mode on laptops less cumbersome to use. Many people don't use hibernate because it takes minutes for a PC to come back to life, while a PC in standby mode starts up in seconds, said an Intel engineer who showed the technologies on stage. Yet hibernate mode saves much more energy. A laptop battery lasts only a few days in standby mode, but in hibernate mode it can run for almost a month, the engineer said.
So Intel developed a new technology called Fast Flash Standby. It takes a snapshot of the state of the laptop in flash memory just before the PC goes into hibernation and can then bring it back to life in seconds.
The engineer showed the technology on a laptop playing a high definition video. When she put the machine in hibernation and then started it up again, the video resumed playing almost immediately. She even removed the battery and replaced it, and the machine started up where it left off. "If I did this in any other state, I'd be rebooting my system," she said.
Another technology aims to help people with multiple computers to keep their files and folders synchronised among the various devices. Instead of using a USB drive or sending files between PCs via email, users can drag and drop files on the screen to transfer them from one PC to another over a Wi-Fi network.
The engineer contended it's better than cloud-based services for sharing content because the data remains within a user's own Wi-Fi network, which she argued is more secure.
A third technology downloads emails, Twitter messages and other content automatically while the machine is unattended. A person catching an early flight, for example, can set the PC to wake up in the night and download the latest information, so the user can run for the plane in the morning and have all their email and other content already on the machine.
One final technology, which Intel said was "fresh out of the labs," didn't work too well in the demonstration. It was supposed to allow a PC to act as a server and share images, videos and other files with other computers, even when they were running different operating systems.
An engineer took a photo with an Android phone and made it appear instantly on the screen of a nearby Windows PC. But when he tried the same thing several times with an iPhone, it didn't work.
"The demo gods aren't smiling on us today," he said.