Intel says it's gaining steam in mobile. The chipmaker dominates the PC realm but wasn't able to get much traction in phones and tablets until this year, when a slew of inexpensive, Intel-powered Windows 8 tablets hit the market.
"There's been a lot of skepticism about Intel in mobility," Intel president Renee James admitted. "I think Intel is well-positioned to have a fantastic position and growth around what we see as the next wave of computing, which is connected computing."
Today at Mobile World Congress, Intel showed off 64-bit Atom processors called "Merrifield" and "Moorefield," a new LTE-Advanced modem, and a roadmap through 2015.
The 64-bit Atom Z3480 processor, formerly codenamed "Merrifield," runs at speeds up to 2.13GHz and delivers up to double the graphics performance of the previous Atom chipset. We first heard about it in June at Computex, but this is the first time it's actually been demoed. Intel has also delivered a 64-bit Android kernel, so Android devices will be able to use the processor's full power.
"It has a dual-core, 64-bit Silvermont, designed to be superior in terms of energy efficiency translating into long battery life," said Hermann Eul, Intel's mobile chief. "It has stellar graphics on it, and it comes with an integrated sensor hub."
Intel also teased "Moorefield," the follow-up to Merrifield, which will have two more cores running at speeds of 2.3GHz as well as faster GPU and memory. That will come out later this year.
They'll be followed by "Sofia 3G" and "Sofia LTE," Intel's lower-cost chipsets with integrated modems, then the 14-nanometer Cherry Trail by the end of 2014, and Broxton in 2015, which will have a "new 14nm Atom architecture" for "hero devices." All of these are 64-bit platforms.
The new XMM 7260 modem, meanwhile, supports 22 LTE bands including Category 6, 300Mbps speeds and carrier aggregation. While it still won't fit into Sprint or Verizon's lineups - no CDMA - there's nothing AT&T or T-Mobile would find dissatisfying here.
"Intel is a 64-bit company. Silvermont cores are 64-bit, all the platforms we have are 64-bit," Eul said.
Intel's challenge has been to get phone and tablet makers to adopt its chips, though. Eul and James showed off a bunch of phones and tablets on a stand, but there weren't any big surprises.
The most unusual device James and Eul showed off was actually a Bay Trail-powered kids' tablet from Fuhu, maker of the popular Nabi kids' tablet line. We'd seen that at CES, though.
The company touted commitments from Asus, Lenovo, and Foxconn, but Asus, Lenovo, and Foxconn were already in Intel's corner. Asus, for its part, just added the Asus Fonepad 7 LTE to its line of ZenFones and PadFone mini, which it announced last month at CES. All of those run Intel processors.
Lenovo said it will deliver "mobile experiences from stylish smartphones to high performance tablets with Intel inside," although of course it does already; the company made one of the first Atom-powered phones in the K900, and churns out a huge line of Intel-powered Windows products. Foxconn also has some Intel experience, as it makes laptops and tablets for Dell and HP; both Dell and HP tablets were up on Intel's stand.
Intel's roadmap is attractive, but the company still doesn't seem to be attracting new OEMs to develop best-selling mobile products. The inertia around ARM-based expertise, especially in the smartphone world, just seems to be too great. The company's new focus on cloud, servers and the "Internet of Things" may be a more fertile target than traditional tablets, if that continues to be the case.
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