New SoCs give Intel a greater presence in the mobile sector
The mobile device category is dominated by ARM-based processors, and that's something that doesn't sit well with Intel. The Santa Clara chip maker is used to being on top of the semiconductor world, and in the mobile space, Intel will attempt to wrestle some share away from ARM with its new 64-bit Atom Z3480 processor, otherwise known as Merrifield, which is a quad-core part intended for Android devices.
Moving to 64-bit could introduce big performance gains in some apps
Intel has a lot of catching up to do in the mobile space. The big dog on campus in mobile is ARM, which powers many of the smartphones and tablets currently available. One thing Intel is looking at to change the tide is 64-bit computing in mobile, which it demonstrated during an investor meeting. The demonstration consisted of an Android tablet with a 64-bit Atom processor inside based on Silvermont.
It's no secret that Intel fell behind in the mobile race. Even though Intel is the largest semiconductor company in the world, most smartphones and tablets run on ARM hardware. Intel chief Brian Krzanich told analysts and investors at a meeting this week that he's "a little embarrassed" at how he and his company "seemed to have lost our way" in terms of its mobile portfolio.
Piles of unsold Surface inventory are sitting in Redmond, and part of the reason for that is because it's extremely tough to sell a $499+ non-iPad tablet to the masses, a lesson Google's hardware partners found out early on. That doesn't mean Windows 8 tablets are a bust, they just need to come down in price and have more apps available. Toshiba is taking care of the first part by launching the appropriately named Encore.
The world's largest semiconductor company finds itself hooked on the mini computing craze that was, in part, popularized by the Raspberry PC and other tiny systems that would follow. Intel, along with CircuitCo Electronics, a company that knows a thing or two about open-source motherboards, shipped the chip maker's first open source PC known as MinnowBoard, which is essentially a slice of silicon powered by Intel's Atom E640 processor (1GHz).
Lower cost Atom tablets part of Intel's turnaround strategy
Intel earlier this week announced its second quarter financial results, revealing that it raked in $12.8 billion in revenue, operating income of $2.7 billion, and net income of $2.0 billion, the latter of which is down 29 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago. Even with the decline, a $2 billion quarterly profit is hardly anything to sneeze at, and several companies would love to trade positions with the Santa Clara chip maker. However, investors can't be thrilled that Intel was slow to react to the mobile market.
Intel's Atom brand grew to notoriety in the netbook era, during which time select ultra-low-voltage (ULV) processors were also found in nettops and embedded applications. Today's Atom processors are much more powerful than those early models that debuted in 2008, but because of negative connotations attached to the Atom brand in terms of performance, Intel may decide to drop the brand name.
Silvermont is significantly different from Atom architectures that have preceded it.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Silvermont, the codename for the next generation of Intel's Atom line and the first in a family of yearly refreshes. Oh, and forget any preconceived notions you have about Atom, Silvermont is far different from the architecture found in your first or second generation notebook. It's a brand new design using Intel's 22nm 3D Tri-Gate SoC (System-on-Chip), which Intel claims will deliver "significant increases in performance and energy efficiency."
Intel CEO Paul Otellini recently said that touchscreen PCs could start selling for as little as $200 sometime in the next few months, though it's tough to imagine a Windows 8-based machine carrying such a low price tag. That's because they probably won't. Instead of Windows 8, most of these affordable PCs will be laptop machines built around Google's open source Android platform.
Intel refuses to surrender the lower-end of the market.
Years ago AMD was putting pressure on Intel to continue innovating on the high end, but fast forwarded to 2013 and Intel is the last man standing. The new war is in ultra-low powered chips, and the company is years behind. Intel’s response to ARM was the ATOM series of processors, but they were stuck trying to power a heavy and bloated Microsoft OS, while ARM had custom designed operating systems that extended battery life, and created an entirely new market. This year the two companies are destined to meet in the middle, and it will be a pivotal moment in the history of computing. Intel has announced its plans to compete with the current crop of dirt cheap ARM based devices, and to the winner goes the spoils.