Intel May Speed Up Atom Production: Report

A source tells Barron’s that the company wants to reduce the lag time between releases of Core and Atom chips.

Intel executives have said over the past few months that the low-power Atom platform will be the key driver in company's aggressive push into the competitive mobile computing market, and that they will accelerate innovation around the chips.

That could include speeding up the production cycle for its next-generation Atom processor, dubbed Bay Trail T, according to a recent report in Barron's.

New CEO Brian Krzanich and President Renee James have both been vocal about the need to put more resources behind the development of the Atom platform, which will play a prominent role not only with mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, but also in the data center with dense, low-power servers.

"Intel was slow to respond to the ultramobile trend," Krzanich said in a conference call in July to discuss the company's quarterly financial numbers. "We will move Atom even faster to our leading-edge silicon technology."

Citing a "person close to Intel," Barron's reported that company officials at the Intel Developer Forum in September will outline a chip road map that will more closely bring the production schedule for Atom in line with that of Intel's Core processors, which are larger and less energy efficient than Atom and are found in millions of PCs.

The move would be only the latest by Intel that is aimed at making the company a larger player in a mobile chip space that is dominated by Apple and by ARM and its wide range of partners, from Samsung to Qualcomm to Texas Instruments. ARM designs low-power systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) and licenses those designs to other vendors, which add their own technology on top of the designs and sell the chips to device manufacturers.

Like other established tech companies, Intel was caught flat-footed by the trend away from PCs—global sales of the systems have declined in recent years—and toward mobile devices. Intel is working hard to make up for the mistake, with mixed success. Company officials have said that the new Atom chips based on the upcoming "Silvermont" architecture will be more powerful and energy efficient than past SoCs, and will exceed ARM-based offerings in those areas.

According to Barron's source, the goal of the accelerated production schedule will be to bring it more in sync with that of the Core chips. Currently, the gap is almost a year; 22-nanometer Core chips for desktop and mobile PCs have been available since last year, but the 22nm Atom SoCs aren't expected to start appearing in devices until after the holidays.

That's expected to change with the 14nm Core and Atom chips. At IDF, company officials are expected to announce a production schedule that will close the gap between the upcoming Core and Atom "Bay Trail T" chips by six months.

Intel's future in the mobile chip space is a topic of increasing interest, as the vendor, under Krzanich's direction, looks to ramp up its efforts. Auguste Gus Richard and Jennifer Baxter, both analysts with Piper Jaffray, said in research notes that Intel's revenues could jump by as much as 5 percent next year, based in large part on the assumption that enterprises will accelerate their PC refresh efforts after Microsoft's announcement that it will end support of the Windows XP operating system in April 2014, giving them even greater incentive to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8.

As many as 250 million PCs will be upgraded, Richard and Baxter wrote. In addition, Intel should gain some market share in the tablet space with its Bay Trail SoCs, they said.

However, they were less optimistic about Intel's long-range prospects in the mobile device space and said the company should consider what they called bold moves, including licensing ARM's SoC designs and buying Synopsys, which makes software for chip production.