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Intel claims 35 Atom tablets about to hit the market

As Nvidia may have netted Samsung

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Intel sees tablets as a strong route for its Atom processor, into the mobile device market, because of the need for high performance and the similarities to PC functionality.

However, the first commercial tablets, such as iPad and Galaxy Tab, have run on ARM-based chips, and indeed, both of these processors come from Intel‘s next biggest silicon rival, Samsung Electronics. This puts the pressure on the market leader to accelerate its efforts for 2011 tablets, and CEO Paul Otellini is bullish about its prospects – even as another mobile challenger from the PC space, Nvidia, is reported to have ousted Samsung Electronics from some slots at its own handset sister firm, and powers the world‘s first dual-core smartphone, from LG.

"The consumer [tablet] products will roll out over the first half of next year," Otellini told analysts at a conference, according to a Reuters report. Intel chips will turn up in 35 tablets from 15 brands, many from well established PC customers such as Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba, he said. But with the form factor initially dominated by smartphone chip stalwarts like Samsung and Qualcomm, as well as the emerging Nvidia, he admitted the pursuit of the mobile market would be "a marathon, not a sprint."

He expects Atom-based tablets to run a variety of operating systems, including the Intel/Nokia platform MeeGo, Android and Windows. On a slide presented at a Barclays Capital event, he listed the big PC brands, but also the MeeGo pioneer WeTab, and, interestingly, AT&T. Carriers have expressed interest in commissioning own-branded tablets, and a few, notably Australia‘s Telstra, have already launched one. Verizon is expected to offer one or more devices in this form to integrate content across its mobile and FiOS IPTV networks. Acer and WeTab are expected to be the first to ship MeeGo tablets, while the Android devices will support a mixture of the new 2.3 release and the upcoming version 3.0, which will be fully adapted to large screens.

For Windows, there will be two lines of Atom chips Oak Trail, for PC compatible devices that allow for connectivity to peripherals such as printers, and Moorestown, which is the first Atom suited to smartphones and will support better battery life, but not external connectivity. Otellini added that the second generation smartphone processor, Medfield, is now being sampled by customers and should ship next year. "You will see smartphones from premier branded vendors in the second half of 2011 with Intel silicon inside them," he said.

Nvidia wins slots for Tegra2

Meanwhile, after two years trying to get its head above the mobile parapet, Nvidia is making real headway with its new Tegra2 dual-core processor. Now it has gained its biggest win to date, and one that could propel it firmly onto Qualcomm‘s radar, with a sizeable order from Samsung reported by Citigroup.

If the firm‘s analyst Glen Yeung is correct in his latest research note, Nvidia could have added Samsung to orders from LG and several PC makers, as Tegra2 shines in the emerging tablet market. The original Tegra gained limited uptake, though it was the basis of Microsoft‘s Zune HD player, but the dual-core successor offers video and graphics capabilities that put it alongside the big guns.

Yeung writes that Samsung has "placed a sizeable order with Nvidia for Tegra2 chips in the first half of 2011, geared for both tablets and smartphones." Such a deal could be worth between $250m and $350m, though neither company would comment. It could also put pressure on Qualcomm, traditionally Samsung‘s major supplier, which is now sharing processor business with various rivals, and even losing some baseband slots to competitors like Broadcom.

If Tegra2 does get into upcoming Samsung devices, it would also be a blow to the handset maker‘s own sister firm, Samsung Electronics, which provides its Hummingbird mobile processor for flagship products like Galaxy S and has its own multicore roadmap based on the forthcoming Orion model.

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