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Intel planning tablet-only processors, says report

Nov 11, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Intel is working on a new line of processors specifically designed for tablets, according to an industry report. The chipmaker will drive the power consumption of its smartphone and tablet processors down to less than 10 Watts, and will accelerate its processor upgrade cadence from two years to one.

Intel is reportedly developing a new family of processors designed specifically for tablets — a move that would be a departure from previous plans to have the upcoming Atom "Medfield" platform support both smartphones and tablets. According to a Nov. 11 report from DigiTimes, the new tablet-focused lineup of chips will come out in 2012.

Intel executives expect the new processor line will enable the chipmaker to compete more directly with ARM Holdings. particularly in terms of thermal design power (TDP) and performance, says the story.

ARM chip designs, including dual-core Cortex-A9 processors like the Nvidia Tegra 2, currently dominate smartphones and tablets. The first quad-Cortex-A9 system on chip — the Tegra 3 —  began shipping this week in the Android-powered Asus Transformer Prime tablet (pictured with mobile keyboard dock).

Quoting "industry sources," DigiTimes reported that over the next two years, Intel will work to drive down the TDP levels of chips for both smartphones and tablets to less than 10 Watts. In addition, Intel plans to speed up the cadence of upgrades to new chips from every two years to every year, says the story.

According to Digitimes' sources, Intel is planning to launch three new chipsets over the next three years. These are said to include the 32-nanometer "Saltwell," the 22nm "Silvermont" and the 14nm "Airmont."

In May, Intel confirmed that the Atom platform would be extended in the Silvermont and Airmont designs. Intel also has a partnership with Google, in which the search engine giant will optimize Android for the Atom platform, designed for smartphones and tablets. 

Ultrabooks still key to Intel roadmap

Having tablet-focused chips would add to Intel's arsenal as it tries to compete in the mobile space. Intel is taking several avenues, not only with its Atom platform for smartphones and tablets, but also with its Core processors in both tablets and ultrabooks. The latter are very thin and light notebooks that offer traditional laptop capabilities as well as features found in tablets. Examples include the Asus UX-21 (pictured).

Executives introduced the ultrabook concept in May at the Computex 2011 show, outlining a device that is no thicker than 0.8 inches and has tablet-like features, ranging from long battery life and instant-on capabilities to the use of solid-state drives. Eventually, other features, including touch capabilities, will be added.

Pricing has become the key issue, however. To compete with Apple's popular MacBook Pro, the ultrabooks needed to come in at less than $1,000, and probably significantly less for them to compete with the myriad tablets on the market, particularly Apple's iPad. The first ultrabooks out this quarter — from the likes of Acer and Toshiba, in addition to Asus — include some models priced as low as $899. Most are well over $1,000, however.

Intel is looking to help drive down the costs of components through a $300 million fund designed for companies making hardware and software for ultrabooks, as well as through reference designs for OEMs. The first ultrabooks are based on Intel's "Sandy Bridge" Core chips, though Intel executives say they expect significantly more OEM designs when Intel's "Ivy Bridge" processors are released next year.

Intel is unlikely to hit its initial goal of having ultrabooks represent 40 percent of all notebooks sold by the end of 2012, but market research firm IHS iSuppli projected in a Nov. 7 report that ultrabooks could account for 43 percent of shipping notebooks by 2015.

"To compete with media tablets, notebook PCs must become sexier and more appealing to consumers," stated Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst for compute platforms at IHS iSuppli. "With media tablets having already reversed the expansion of the previously fast-growing netbook platform, PC makers now are keenly aware that the notebook must evolve to maintain market growth and relevance."

Continued Wilkins, "Enter the ultrabook, which borrows some of the form-factor and user-interface advantages of the media tablet to enhance the allure of the venerable notebook."

Jeffrey Burt is a writer for eWEEK.

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