Apple iPad, Ultraportables Driving Graphics-Enabled Chip Market: Analyst

Ultraportables and devices like the Apple iPad are expected to drive widespread adoption of graphics-enabled microprocessors, iSuppli said in a new report. Intel and AMD are positioned to benefit.

Fueled by strong netbook sales and form-factor-pushing devices like the Apple iPad, worldwide shipments of graphics-enabled microprocessors are expected to follow a straight path upward, iSuppli reported Aug. 11.

While 2010 will see such microprocessors ship in approximately one out of three notebook PCs, by 2014 that figure is expected to reach four out of five.

"The booming popularity of products like ultraportable notebooks and [Apple's] iPad has put the spotlight on products with small and innovative form factors," Matthew Wilkins, an iSuppli principal analyst, said in a statement. "To develop such products, PC makers are adopting highly integrated semiconductor solutions that use less power and generate less heat, thus allowing smaller form factors. By integrating functions that normally would be implemented in a separate graphics chip, graphics-enabled microprocessors play a key role in aiding this effort."

iSuppli reports that ultraportable PCs are currently the fastest-growing segment of the notebook market, with global shipments expected to double between 2010 and 2014. By the latter date, graphics-enabled chip penetration in such devices is expected to reach 90 percent, according to the report.

The Apple iPad tablet uses Apple's A4 microprocessor - an example, says iSuppli, of a "highly integrated silicon solution" being used to achieve a new and innovative form factor. The firm notes that the iPad's highly successful Human Machine Interface design - which it pointed out in its teardown of the iPad, reverses the paradigm of traditional notebook PC design, which is more motherboard-centric - is largely made possible by the device's microprocessor. The A4, states the report, "enabled the design of a system with a minimal space and cost dedicated to core electronics."

Which companies will benefit most from the adotpion of chips with integrated graphics? According to iSuppli, Intel has cornered the market with its iCore I Series products, which feature HD on-chip graphics. Intel at one time planned to release its own discrete graphics technology, dubbed "Larrabee," but earlier this year discontinued that project. Company officials said they instead will focus on increasing the graphics capabilities in their CPUs.

Additionally, iSuppli expects that Intel competitor Advanced Micro Devices will also , with its upcoming Fusion APUs (Accelerated Processing Units), which bring computing and graphics technologies onto a single die. The first of these APUs, dubbed "Llano" and "Ontario," are due out in the first half of 2011, according to AMD officials.

The bad news?

"Rising sales of these microprocessors is expected to have a negative impact on sales of standalone graphics chips," states the report, "with the worldwide market for discrete graphics devices for PCs declining to shipments of 62 million in 2014, down from 73 million in 2009."

That could hit embattled GPU-maker Nvidia hard. According to a Jon Peddie Research report July 30, Intel kept the top spot of the graphics market in the second quarter, while AMD saw signficant gains. During the same period, Nvidia saw its business decline in practically every market segment, and company officials in July issued a warning about weak second-quarter earnings.

iSuppli expects the penetration of microprocessors with integrated graphics to reach 50 percent of the worldwide PC market in 2011 and to climb to 65 percent in 2011 and 76.1 percent in 2013, before reaching approximately 83 percent of the market in 2014.