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Intel still playing catch-up, according to ARM executive

According to an ARM executive, Intel "still has a long way to go" to match the power consumption of chips based on the rival ARM architecture, which are used in most of today's smartphones and tablets.

Speaking to DigiTimes, ARM's vice president of marketing and strategy, Noel Hurley, conceded that Intel has been making progress in its attempt to penetrate the market for mobile processors used in handsets and tablets. But ARM continues to have "a significant upper hand in power consumption," the key to longer battery life in mobile devices, the ARM executive said.

So far, Intel has managed to get its 1.6-GHz Atom Z2460 chip into just a handful of Android-based smartphones being prepped for China, India, and other non-US markets. However, the company does look set to make more of an impact in the tablet market when Microsoft releases its new touch-friendly Windows 8 operating system in October.

Going into next week's annual Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the chip giant is likely to have a good deal to say about its future in the mobile device space. For all of Intel's dominance of the PC industry over the past several decades, the company has had next to no luck breaking into the exploding mobile device space since Apple's iPhone broke it wide open five years ago. This is a doubly painful reality for Intel, since the company was itself forecasting the rise of what it called mobile Internet devices (MIDs) back around the time the iPhone was making its debut.

With successive generations of x86-based System-on-a-Chip designs under its Atom brand, Intel has managed to get the average power consumption of its workhorse chips closer to the 1 Watt level that has made the ARM architecture so attractive to mobile device makers.

On the power consumption front, at least from a benchmarking perspective, Intel's current Atom Z2460 SoC, code named Medfield, has proven extremely competitive with the ARM-based chips powering smartphones like Apple's iPhone 4S and Samsung's Galaxy SII, according to AnandTech.

What looks great in the lab hasn't translated to lots of design wins in the real world, though - but Intel has some solid reasons for optimism on that front. The chip giant is in the process of pulling in its product roadmap for the Atom line to bring it into cadence with its flagship Core and Xeon product lines for PCs and servers. That means Atom will be getting all the advantages of Intel's industry-leading process technology advances faster going forward.

If the 32nm Medfield parts wind up as more proof-of-concept than best sellers in Intel's bid to crack the mobile device market, the company may get far better penetration with the 22nm Silvermont chips due out in 2013 and the 14nm Airmont SoCs coming out just a year later.

If Intel's present circumstances aren't exactly striking fear in the hearts of ARM execs like Hurley, the future may be a different matter entirely.