Intel Developing Tablet-Specific Chip: Report

Intel reportedly is working on chips specifically designed for tablets, according to a report in DigiTimes.

Intel reportedly is 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 news Website DigiTimes, the new tablet-focused lineup of chips will come out in 2012, and Intel executives expect it will enable the giant chip maker to compete more directly with ARM Holdings-whose chip designs dominate the mobile-device space, including smartphones and tablets-particularly in terms of thermal design power (TDP) and performance.

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 while speeding up the cadence of upgrades to new chips from every two years to every year.

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

Intel is looking to make an aggressive move into the booming mobile-device space, and next year promises to be a key one for the chip maker. 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, very thin and light notebooks that executives say will offer traditional laptop capabilities and features found in tablets. Intel also has a partnership with Google in which the search engine giant will optimize its Android mobile operating system around Intel's Atom platform.

Having tablet-focused chips would add to Intel's arsenal as it tries to compete in the mobile space.

The ultrabook strategy holds promise for Intel, which is the world's top chip maker but has little if any presence in the mobile-device market. Executives introduced the idea 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 need 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. However, the first ultrabooks out this quarter-from the likes of Acer, Asus and Toshiba-include some priced as low as $899, but most are well over $1,000.

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 2nd Generation Core Sandy Bridge 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 40 percent of all notebooks sold by the end of 2012 being ultrabooks, but market research firm IHS iSuppli said in a report Nov. 7 that they could account for 43 percent by 2015.

"To compete with media tablets, notebook PCs must become sexier and more appealing to consumers," Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst for compute platforms at IHS iSuppli, said in a statement. "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. 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."