Intel builds graphics chip into CPU

Shows Sandy Bridge combo at CEO, with content control built in

Intel is highlighting a whole new generation of microprocessors code-named Sandy Bridge that combine CPUs and graphics processing on a single chip.

That should make higher-end graphics more common, more energy efficient, better performing and more common on machines without separate graphics-processing cards -- most of them business computers.

AMD plans a line of similar chips for later this year.

The chips will be sold as part of Intel's Core line. They have a memory controller and PCIE Express controller built into the die, in addition to the GPU and built-in DirectX 10.1 hooks that will make video transcoding, video or photo editing and streaming movies more efficient.

Though they're designed to stream video content -- movies -- more cleanly than previous versions, the Sandy Bridge chips have stronger hooks for DRM than previous chips, giving movie studios and software publishers better control over digital products once they've been installed on customers' PCs.

Time Warner and other movie studios plan to release streaming versions of HD movies to consumers at the same time they release DVDs, an Intel VP told Reuters last week.

That's great for watching new movies. Not so great if you have a dispute over licensing with a software company and it's able to turn off an important piece of software because it thinks you should pay more in licensing costs than you do.

The DRM in Sandy Bridge is only a tool. Whether its impact turns out to be good or bad depends on how it's used by studios and developers who take advantage of it.

Both have tried, in the past, to take advantage of both the available technology and their customers with draconic or malicious efforts to protect their content.

Most infamous was the rootkit Sony BMG embedded in copy protected CDs that installed on a customer's computer when the CD was played and took over some system functions.

Acting more like malware than DRM, the software phoned Sony to download and serve ads, sent data about the customer's media usage and, coincidentally, leave a gaping hole in the customer's firewall through which anything distasteful could walk.

The case enraged customers and sparked a movement to kill or sharply regulate DRM. That didn't happen.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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