Asus Puts Intel Atom, Modem Into PadFone X Mini

The hybrid device will feature the first U.S. smartphone to offer the Intel chip inside, giving the chip maker some good mobile news.

Asus PadFone

Intel's embattled mobile chip business has finally gotten some good news in the form of an Asus smartphone.

Intel executives Oct. 14 said that in the third quarter the company saw significant revenue gains in the PC and data center businesses, but the chip maker's Mobile Communications Group lost $1 billion over those three months while generating only $1 million in sales. CEO Brian Krzanich said the company was on target to see 40 million Intel-based tablets sold this year and had yet to have a smartphone powered by one of its chips selling in the United States.

However, Asus, AT&T and Intel later announced that the Taiwanese device maker will use an Intel Atom processor and the chip maker's XMM7160 LTE modem in its new PadFone X mini, a 4.5-inch 4G LTE smartphone that becomes a 7-inch tablet when docked. The device will be available Oct. 24 from AT&T for $199.99 with the carrier's GoPhone plan. Customers also can get the PadFone X mini online from Asus or AT&T.

"The combination of Intel's processor and cutting-edge LTE solution gives the PadFone X mini a robust, one-two punch for U.S. consumers," Hermann Eul, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Communication Group, said in a statement. "People are demanding more from their devices, and the phone's unique smartphone and tablet form factor allows consumers to have more capabilities on one data plan, all at an affordable price."

Intel has been aggressive in its efforts to gain traction in a mobile chip space that is dominated by companies like Qualcomm and Apple, which develop processors based on the ARM architecture. Intel, the world's largest chip maker, has looked to drive down the power consumption of its x86-based Atom processors to make them more attractive to device makers.

Connectivity has been a weakness that Intel is working to shore up. The Asus device, which runs Google's Android 4.4 mobile operating system, will come with the 4G LTE modem sitting next to the Atom CPU. However, Intel is working on its SoFIA chips, which feature an integrated modem. Krzanich said the company is on schedule to launch its 3G SoFIA offering—at the end of the year, and an LTE SoFIA SoC in the first half of 2015.

Krzanich also said that Intel will be relying on both in-house innovation and partnerships to fuel its mobile efforts. Intel in March announced a partnership with Chinese chip maker Rockchip to build 3G versions of SoFIA for entry-level tablets, which are due in the first half of 2015. In September, the company said it was investing $1.5 billion in Tsinghua Unigroup, a state-owned venture in China that runs Chinese chip designers RDA Microelectronics and Spreadtrum Communications.

During a conference call with analysts and journalists Oct. 14 to talk about the third-quarter numbers, Krzanich noted other successes the mobile chip unit has seen, including Samsung choosing Intel's category 6 LTE 7260 modem for its Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note 4 tablets.

"The strategic importance of these capabilities continues to grow," the CEO said. "Our LTE technology, which we developed for phones, is becoming increasingly valuable in tablets and even PCs as wireless wide-area network connectivity becomes increasingly common. We estimate, for example, that by 2018, the rate of baseband attached to tablets will roughly double, and that PCs will rise to more than 15 percent."