Intel's newly introduced Atom-based "Moorestown" mobile platform, with its lower power consumption and high performance capabilities, will give Intel a legitimate shot at gaining market share in a space dominated by ARM-designed processors, according to some analysts.
With Intel looking to expand its reach beyond its core PC and server
businesses, officials at the giant chip maker are becoming less concerned about
competition from traditional rival Advanced Micro Devices.
Instead, they're focusing more on ARM
Holdings, whose chip designs are found in large numbers of mobile handheld
devices-including smartphones-a business that Intel wants in on. Texas
Instruments, Qualcomm and Nvidia are among the chip makers that use ARM
With the release May 4 of its new
"Moorestown" Atom-based platform, some analysts say Intel is making a
strong argument for its x86-based technology in such devices as smartphones and
tablets, if not in 2010 then by next year.
In a report released May 3, Morgan Stanley analysts said that
while many other industry observers believe Intel will have a difficult time
overcoming power consumption issues to really challenge ARM
in the smartphone business, they believe that with the 45-nanometer Moorestown
and the following 32-nm "Medfield" platform-due in 2011-that Intel will make
inroads into the market.
"Our analysis indicates that Intel is focusing on the right
design attributes, increasing its probability of success in penetrating the smartphone
application processor market," the Morgan Stanley analysts said. "We think
Intel's Moorestown progress will trigger the process for
model updates to include smartphones."
During the launch May 4, Intel officials noted that the
Moorestown platform-which includes the Atom Z6 series SoC (system on a chip),
Intel Platform Controller Hub MP20 and a dedicated mixed signal IC-offers a 50
percent reduction in idle power consumption, 10 hours of standby battery time,
and 5 hours of active battery life.
The SoC is created by combining 3D graphics, video encode and
decode, memory, and display controllers with the Atom chip, according to Intel.
However, the Morgan Stanley analysts said that smartphones will
continue evolving away from basic phone and voice tasks to more computerlike
functions, such as graphics, video, audio and Internet capabilities. Processors
for these devices increasingly will be judged on those functions.
"Consequently, our view is that the basis of competition will
shift increasingly toward ability to handle compute functions-an area of
strength for Intel," they said. "Our checks indicate that Moorestown
is set to outshine competitive offerings on computational, graphics, video and Web
page load benchmarks."
Daniel Amir, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets, also said
that Moorestown is impressive technology, but questions
Intel's changes against the ARM-designed
processors on the market.
"With a 50x reduction in power consumption, increased
performance and reduced footprint, [Intel] is making its 2nd attempt to
overtake the handheld market with Moorestown," Amir said
in a report May 5. "While we are still skeptical of [Intel's] ability to
overcome growing competition from ARM-based
designs, we were impressed by Moorestown's performance leadership in terms of
video (1080p HD) playback, Java and webpage load times compared to existing
solutions in the market, and we are less concerned about pricing."
Intel's success in this space will rely more on the ecosystems
that grow up around it than solely in the platform's performance capabilities,
The Morgan Stanley analysts agreed, pointing to Intel's
partnership with Nokia in development of the Linux-based MeeGo
mobile software platform, "which we think positions Intel well against
competition, which appears to lack similar focus on software."
Intel has created its Atom developer program to help drive the
development of software around its mobile chip platform.
The mobile space is a volatile one as Intel and ARM
continue to push for market share, and analysts are not in agreement on how it
will pan out. In January, ABI Research
predicted that by 2013, ARM-based mobile PC
systems-netbooks, smartbooks and other ultra-mobile devices-will
outsell x86-based systems. This year will probably see a 75-25 split in
Intel's favor, the ABI analysts said, but
that will change over the next three years.
ABI's prediction echoes that
of Robert Castellano, an analyst with The Information Network, who said in
March 2009 that netbooks powered by ARM's
Cortex-A9 and running Linux will overtake x86-based ultra-mobile systems by
In October 2009, ARM
announced its Cortex-A5 MPCore chip design, which officials said will be cheaper,
faster and more energy-efficient than its predecessors and will be aimed at Internet-enabled
devices, including netbooks and smartphones.
However, also last year, IDC forecasted
that non-x86-based systems wouldn't gain more than 10 to 20 percent of the
market, in part due to Intel's influence with systems makers.