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Otellini warns of mobile struggle

Despite a public face of confidence, Intel chief Paul Otellini is concerned that his company has a fight on its hands to gain traction in the mobile chip marketplace.

Having officially launched a selection of Atom processors specifically designed to challenge ARM's dominance in the smartphone and embedded computing sectors, Intel is clearly betting heavily on being able to break into a whole new market - but a leaked internal memo reveals that Otellini isn't quite as confident as his public pronouncements project.

Obtained by Bloomberg from an unknown source, the memo warns Intel employees that the fight to get the company's Atom range of low-power x86 chips accepted in the mobile marketplace will be a "marathon, not a sprint."

Otellini goes on to warn employees that "winning an architectural contest can take time," but feels confident that "ultimately, we can and will lead."

In the memo, Otellini claims: "I am also very optimistic about our opportunity in tablets and smartphones, even though we are not first to market with a solution," echoing his public statements of confidence that the mobile marketplace is in his grasp.

The company faces an uphill struggle, however. British chip design speciliast ARM, which produces ultra-low power chip designs which it then licenses to hardware manufacturers such as Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, is responsible for more CPU shipments each year than x86 champions AMD and Intel combined, and enjoys a position of extreme strength in the mobile market.

With almost all phones, and the majority of tablets, shipping with ARM-based processors, developers are used to working with the RISC-based chips - and a move to CISC-based x86 would represent a significant investment of time and effort which may not pay off in terms of improved performance.

The memo demonstrates that Otellini is focused on attacking ARM's dominance of the mobile sector, but the fight could be even more of a struggle than he suspects.