Intel Looks to Atom Clover Trail, Windows 8 for Tablet Push

The giant chip maker at an event in San Francisco unveiled its new Atom Z2760 SoC and a host of upcoming tablets running Windows 8.

Intel officials are giving the industry a look at some the tablets powered by their chips and running Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system that are expected to debut over the next few months, including devices based on the chip maker’s new Atom Clover Trail product.

The company had the chips and tablets on display at an event in San Francisco Sept. 27 that gave visual evidence to Intel’s stated intentions to become a player in the competitive tablet market using its own x86 chip architecture and—at least initially—Microsoft’s much-anticipated Windows 8, which is optimized for tablets.

The tablets on display at the event were powered by a number of different Intel chips, including some of its Core and current low-power Atom chips. However, central to Intel’s efforts was the unveiling of its new Atom Z2760 Clover Trail Atom processor, built specifically for tablets running Windows 8. The new system-on-a-chip (SoC) is designed to enable OEMs to build very thin-and-light tablets that are high-performing and energy-efficient, according to Chris Walker, director of business development at Intel.

The dual-core Atom Z2760 offers long battery life—more than three weeks of connected standby and more than 10 hours when running local high-definition video playback. It runs at a speed of 1.8GHz and offers 1MB of Layer 2 cache.

A long list of systems makers had their Intel-based devices on display, including Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Lenovo and ZTE. In addition, Intel and Microsoft have been working together closely to get the chip and operating system optimized for one another. The Intel-based tablets running Windows 8 will begin to come out in late October, around the Oct. 26 launch date for the operating system.

The 32-nanometer Clover Trail SoC is an important step for Intel as it looks to push its way into a tablet market where the bulk of devices are powered by chips designed by ARM Holdings and sold by vendors like Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Intel dominates the server and PC chip spaces, but PC sales are stagnant, due in part to the increased consumer interest in tablets and smartphones. Intel has been working to drive down the power consumption—a key concern among mobile device users—of its Atom chips.

Microsoft is in a similar situation, trying to gain traction in a tablet OS market now dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Intel and Microsoft had some success with a few tablets running Windows 7 on Intel’s previous tablet chip, the Atom Oak Trail SoC. However, the size, performance and power efficiency are greater on Clover Trail. Intel’s Z2460 Medfield chip also can be used for tablets.

Along with Windows 8, Microsoft also is rolling out another version—dubbed Windows RT—that will run on ARM’s architecture.

Intel’s interest in the tablet market comes down to growth and money. According to Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder, by 2016, there will 750 million tablets in use worldwide, and they will have a significant presence in the enterprise; 82 percent of businesses indicate they are interested in using tablets, and about a third of the 375 million tablets that will be sold in 2016 will go to businesses for their employees.

“If we mark the modern tablet era by Apple’s 2010 iPad launch, then an astounding 84 million iPads and as many as 120 million tablets in total have flown off the shelves,” Gownder said in a Sept. 26 post on the analyst firm’s blog.

Intel officials believe that interest in using tablets at work will help the company expand into the market, particularly since Intel’s x86-based chips run most of the business applications in use today. Users also have a familiarity with both Intel and Windows.

“That’s a great advantage,” Intel’s Walker told eWEEK. “Until the Atom processor, people [typically] wanted tablets for consumer uses. … But we are seeing that people want to do play and work on their mobile devices.”

Intel drew the ire of some open-source supporters earlier this month when it was learned that Clover Trail initially would support only Windows 8. However, Intel officials said that there are plans for another version of the SoC that will support both Linux and Android.