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Intel Builds Sandy Bridge With a DRM Tollbooth

Intel Builds Sandy Bridge With a DRM Tollbooth

Sandy Bridge, the latest line of Intel's Core i series CPUs, will reportedly feature faster speeds, better integrated graphics, lower power consumption and a DRM scheme to protect the content of motion picture studios. The so-called Intel Insider will apparently be a required component for users to access certain online movie offerings.

By Richard Adhikari
01/04/11 5:00 AM PT

Intel has reportedly revealed details about its new family of laptop and desktop processors, code-named "Sandy Bridge."

The processors, which will be demoed at the CES 2011 show in Las Vegas later this week, offer better energy performance, improved 3D and graphics performance, and can overclock when needed without overheating, according to press reports.

Intel will reportedly build a hardware security layer into the processors to prevent people from copying streaming videos.

However, the chip giant was reluctant to discuss the new processors. "The release has not been issued yet," Intel spokesperson Susan Ramirez told TechNewsWorld.

Water Under the Sandy Bridge?

The new processors will reportedly be available as dual- or quad-core chips.

They will use version 2 of Intel's Turbo Boost technology, which will let them overclock, or exceed each processor's rated speed, as needed without overheating.

"Turbo Boost basically measures the power going into the chip, and as long as that power's under a certain threshold for a predetermined period of time, it'll let one or more cores, including the graphics cores, accelerate to over their clock speed and then shut off," Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.

"This is based on the philosophy that you use less power if you finish a task quickly and then shut down the chip, and they're right," McGregor added.

The Sandy Bridge processors, built around Intel's 32nm micro architecture, apparently offer improved graphics and 3D performance.

The chip giant has been leaking information about the Sandy Bridge processors for months. Back in July, information surfaced indicating that Intel would retain the current Core i3, i5 and i7 nomenclature and that power consumption would be lower than current chips.

In September, the company released more information about the Sandy Bridge processors at the Intel Developer Conference. It includes these facts: The Sandy Bridge processor core is an extension of the Nehalem micro architecture, the Sandy Bridge processors have a new 256-bit instruction set, and they support Intel hyper-threading technology.

Thou Shalt Not Stream

One particularly interesting reported detail regarding the processors is that Intel will incorporate hardware-level copy protection technologies.

The technology it'll use is apparently called "Insider." It will incorporate an end-to-end protection layer and a management feature to unlock high-definition movies downloaded from online streaming services or off DVDs.

"These are features built into the hardware, so if you're a Netflix or a Warner Bros., you can program a time clock into a movie or code it so it's good for only a certain number of days after the consumer downloads it," In-Stat's McGregor pointed out. "It's all related to DRM."

DRM, or digital rights management, has long been a bone of contention between consumers and content providers, mainly motion picture studios and recording companies. The Recording Industry Association of America spent more than US$16 million on legal fees in 2008 alone to sue individuals for downloading music illegally, according to its tax returns, as published on P2Pnet.

"I'm really interested to see how this is going to go over," McGregor said. "Only Hollywood likes the idea of copy protection, and consumers have got around every protection they've put in place."

Apparently, Warner Bros. Digital distribution has agreed to make 300 HD titles available for streaming to computers using the new Intel Core processors with the built-in Insider feature.

Intel's apparently working with more studios to get their content. Further, it reportedly will include the "Insider" feature in lower-end consumer processors.

What if you don't upgrade your laptop or PC to one with the new Core processor? You're out of luck.

That's where things could really get interesting.

"As long as just a few people are shut out of access to these high-definition videos, things will be quiet," McGregor said. "But if things get to a point where every bit of streaming content's protected this way, there might be a serious consumer backlash."

What About Nvidia?

Intel's incorporation of ever more high-powered graphics into its processors could pose a threat to discrete graphics hardware makers like Nvidia.

That might be the case in the long run, but Nvidia's probably safe for now.

"The discrete graphics solution that Nvidia offers is always on the high end, and a lot of OEMs have positioned it as a key feature even for mainstream computing," In-Stat's McGregor remarked. "The Intel solution can by no means be called a high-end one, but over time, you're going to see integrated multimedia solutions getting better and better," he added.

"Intel's Sandy Bridge is an evolutionary improvement in integrated graphics, but it would be like Toyota coming out with a basic 4-cylinder sedan and then saying no one has any need any more for a Lexus," Nvidia spokesperson Ken Brown told TechNewsWorld.

"Intel introduced an improvement in its graphics, but that doesn't replace the need for a discrete GPU," Brown pointed out.

"There will be 200 PCs coming out in 2011 that use the Sandy Bridge CPU with our GeForce GPU, and that's a record number for us," he added.


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