Intel Offers Glimpse Into Tablet Fightback

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Intel put aside recent comments about Windows 8 with an event showcasing forthcoming tablets running its chips

Intel officials have given the industry some insight into its fightback against the iPad juggernaut, after revealing some tablets powered by its chips and running Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

These tablets are expected to debut over the next few months, and include devices based on the chip maker’s new Atom Clover Trail product.

Intel Fightback

The company had the chips and tablets on display at an event in San Francisco 27 September that gave visual evidence to Intel’s stated intentions to become a player in the competitive tablet market using its own x86 chip architecture and – at least initially – Microsoft’s much-anticipated Windows 8, which is optimised for tablets.

The tablets on display at the event were powered by a number of different Intel chips, including some of its Core and current low-power Atom chips. However, central to Intel’s efforts was the unveiling of its new Atom Z2760 Clover Trail Atom processor, built specifically for tablets running Windows 8. The new system-on-a-chip (SoC) is designed to enable OEMs to build very thin-and-light tablets that are high-performing and energy-efficient, according to Chris Walker, director of business development at Intel.

The dual-core Atom Z2760 offers long battery life – more than three weeks of connected standby and more than 10 hours when running local high-definition video playback. It runs at a speed of 1.8GHz and offers 1MB of Layer 2 cache.

A long list of systems makers had their Intel-based devices on display, including Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Lenovo and ZTE. In addition, Intel and Microsoft have been working together closely to get the chip and operating system optimised for one another. The Intel-based tablets running Windows 8 will begin to come out in late October, around the 26 October launch date for the operating system.

Business Tablets

The 32-nanometer Clover Trail SoC is an important step for Intel as it looks to push its way into a tablet market where the bulk of devices are powered by chips designed by ARM Holdings and sold by vendors like Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Intel dominates the server and PC chip spaces, but PC sales are stagnant, due in part to the increased consumer interest in tablets and smartphones. Intel has been working to drive down the power consumption – a key concern among mobile device users – of its Atom chips.

Microsoft is in a similar situation, trying to gain traction in a tablet OS market now dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Intel and Microsoft had some success with a few tablets running Windows 7 on Intel’s previous tablet chip, the Atom Oak Trail SoC. However, the size, performance and power efficiency are greater on Clover Trail. Intel’s Z2460 Medfield chip also can be used for tablets.

Along with Windows 8, Microsoft also is rolling out another version – dubbed Windows RT – that will run on ARM’s architecture.

Intel’s interest in the tablet market comes down to growth and money. According to Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder, by 2016, there will 750 million tablets in use worldwide, and they will have a significant presence in the enterprise; 82 percent of businesses indicate they are interested in using tablets, and about a third of the 375 million tablets that will be sold in 2016 will go to businesses for their employees.

“If we mark the modern tablet era by Apple’s 2010 iPad launch, then an astounding 84 million iPads and as many as 120 million tablets in total have flown off the shelves,” Gownder said in a 26 September post on the analyst firm’s blog.

Open Source Anger

Intel officials believe that interest in using tablets at work will help the company expand into the market, particularly since Intel’s x86-based chips run most of the business applications in use today. Users also have a familiarity with both Intel and Windows.

“That’s a great advantage,” Intel’s Walker told eWEEK. “Until the Atom processor, people [typically] wanted tablets for consumer uses. … But we are seeing that people want to do play and work on their mobile devices.”

Intel drew the ire of some open-source supporters earlier this month when it was learned that Clover Trail initially would support only Windows 8.

However, Intel officials said that there are plans for another version of the SoC that will support both Linux and Android.

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