Intel may continue to trail rival ARM in the important mobile chip market, but company officials believe that a broad array of product offerings and strong partnerships with OEMs and other chip manufacturers will give the company the leverage it needs to gain a stronger foothold in the mobile market.
At the Mobile World Congress 2015 show March 2, the world’s largest chip maker is rolling out its latest generation of low-power Atom processors for tablets, smartphones, phablets and notebooks, armed with a new branding scheme and improved connectivity technologies.
Intel is highlighting its engineering and manufacturing prowess as a way to differentiate the new of x86 chips. The line stretches across mobile systems and connects edge devices to networks that in turn link them to servers and storage appliances in the data center, and connect the cloud to the data center.
“We’re establishing a foundation that is solid and that we’ll build on,” Aicha Evans, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Platform Engineering Group, said during a conference call with journalists and analysts before the show in Barcelona kicked off. “It’s an end-to-end play. There are not a lot of companies that will be able to play in this space at this level. There are not a lot of companies in this space that have such a broad collection of assets.”
Evans said that with the new Atom SoCs coupled with the Core m processor, Intel is offering “a broad and deep portfolio that goes after all mobile platforms.”
Intel was late to the mobile game, missing out on the rise in popularity of smartphones and tablets. This had a negative impact on the chip maker’s dominant PC processor business and gave ARM such a head start that most mobile devices run on ARM’s chip architecture. Under CEO Brian Krzanich, Intel has aggressively pursued the mobile space, accelerating the development of the low-power Atom systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), creating partnerships with chip manufacturers like Rockchip and Spreadtrum as a means of speeding delivery of Intel products into the market and driving new notebook form factors—such as Ultrabooks and two-in-ones. This works to broaden the types of systems that can run on Intel processors.
Intel also reached it goal last year of having more than 40 million Intel-based tablets ship—46 million, to be more exact—though it came at a cost as the vendor paid subsidies to OEMs to entice them to use the processors.
Now the company is unveiling its latest lineup of Atom chips, which include the first manufactured with the 14-nanometer process and with the latest Intel wireless modems. It also sports the new branding for the Atom family, which Intel previewed last week. The chips will be branded according to their capabilities, ranked as good (Atom x3), better (x5) and best (x7). This should be a welcome change from the current system, which includes such products as the Atom Z3570, Z3740 and Z3770, which offer varying degrees of capabilities and speeds but are difficult to distinguish by name.
Intel Unveils Next-Generation Low-Power Atom SoCs
The new Atom x3 processors are aimed at entry-level devices, including smartphones, phablets and tablets, and offer integrated modems. They come in three models—the dual-core 3G (available now); the quad-core 3G-R (due in the first half of the year), and the quad-core x3 LTE (due later in the first half). All come with ARM Mali graphics and WiFi, Bluetooth and GNSS connectivity. In addition, the x3 LTE comes with near-field communications (NFC) capabilities.
The SoCs also will support Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system as well as Google Android, which Evans said is a key differentiator.
“We’re a company that does Windows well,” Evans said. “We think that [support of] Windows Mobile will be very, very important.”
She also noted the partnerships with Rockchip and Spreadtrum and a reference design program for tablets as ways to speed Atom x3-based products into the market.
The new 14nm Atom x5 and x7 “Cherry Trail” chips are aimed at mid-range devices—a WiFi-only version of the x5 targets value systems in the $150 to $249 range—and come with an array of Intel features, from the RealSense 3D camera, WiDi wireless display and TrueKey security technologies to Intel’s Gen 8 graphics. They offer full Windows and Android support and are integrated with Intel’s XMM 726x LTE wireless modem.
The new x7 chips offer up to twice the graphics performance of the previous generation, Evans said.
Intel named a number of OEMs that are building systems for the chips, including Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Asus, Acer and Toshiba.
Also at the show, Intel is announcing its upcoming third-generation LTE modem, the XMM 7360, which offers up to 450 Mb/s downlink, supports LTE Broadcast and voice-over-LTE features, and includes energy-efficiency and interference mitigation capabilities. It’s being tested now by partners, with the first commercial devices hitting the market in the second half of the year, the company said.
New connectivity technologies include the Wireless AC 8×70 multi-radio solution, Wireless-GNSS 2×00 location engine and Wireless-NFC 4000 controller.