Intel does fondleslabs with Atom 'Oak Trail'
But don't call them fondleslabs
Intel has announced that it is now shipping its latest low-power platform, formerly codenamed Oak Trail, aimed squarely at Chipzilla's latest market-defining neologism: "Companion Computing".
That would be what the rest of the known world calls "tablets".
Intel says that the platform, centered around its new Atom Z670 processor – which briefly appeared in error on Intel's website in late March – will form the basis of 35 "innovative tablet and hybrid designs" that will begin shipping in May from companies including Evolve III, Fujitsu Limited, Lenovo, Motion Computing, Razer, and Viliv.
If you're not familiar with some of those companies, don't feel bad – you're not alone.
Intel noted on Monday that the upcoming Oak Trail–based devices from the companies listed above will run "a variety of operating systems," and that the company's "unique 'operating system of choice' strategy" for Atom will support Google's Chrome and Android, Intel's MeeGo, and Microsoft Windows.
In addition to announcing shipment of Oak Trail and the 45-namometer Z670, Intel also announced that it would be giving a "sneak peak" [sic] of their next-gen 32nm mobile platform, "Cedar Trail", at Tuesday and Wednesday's Intel Developer Forum in Beijing.
"The new Intel Atom 'Oak Trail' platform, with 'Cedar Trail' to follow, are examples of our continued commitment to bring amazing personal and mobile experiences to netbook and tablet devices, delivering architectural enhancements for longer battery life and greater performance,” said Intel's netbook and tablet group honcho Doug Davis in Monday's annoucnement.
In keeping with their new marketing emphasis on "experience" over mere speeds 'n' feeds, Intel's Oak Trail announcement focused on the platform's "rich media experience", including 1080p video decode, improved browsing speeds, HDMI support, long battery life, and "premium home theater sound."
In the inevitable "we support it, Apple's iOS doesn't" dig, Intel also promised that Oak Trail will provide speedy performance when running Adobe Flash, enabling "rich content and Flash-based gaming."
Cedar Trail, Intel says, is currently being sampled to OEMs, with devices featuring it to appear in the second half of this year. In addition to support for Blu-ray 2.0 and improved graphics performance, Cedar Trail also promises lower-power performance and its concomitant longer battery life.
Late last year, Intel CEO Paul Otellini confidently predicted that the company would "win" in the tablet marketplace – but implied that the victory would not be a sudden one. "We take a longer-term view to the tablet opportunity," he told reporters and analysts on a conference call announcing Chipzilla's third-quarter financial performance."
Monday's announcement of the Oak Trail rollout, while welcome news to Intel fans, may not be "longer-term" enough to make significant inroads into a market now dominated by ARM variants. Although it's too soon to tell, those same fans may have more reason to hope that the soon-to-follow Cedar Trail might have the chops to move the Intel architecture into a critical mass of "Companion Computing" devices. ®
With an Intel design, you have, at best, one vendor to choose from - Intel. I haven't seen AMD exactly brimming with design-winning low power SoCs, lately. With an ARM design, you have hundreds of OEMs all willing to offer you a part with an ARM core built-in. Want a standalone core? You got it. Want something with a built-in GPU, like a Tegra, or perhaps Mali graphics under licence? You got it. Want something else? You got it. You are free, what's more, to demand a second source - just try that with Intel.
What was that you were saying about choice?
x86 compatibility is so 1990s, though. These days, open source tends to be fairly common - so a recompile to use a different platform isn't quite the outlandish idea it was 15-20 years ago. Binary compatibility hardly means anything unless you run Windows, these days - and Windows is a long way from conquering the smartphone/tablet arena, despite already trying once, with Windows XP Tablet Edition. Rather, the majority of the smartphone/tablet space already supports ARM by default; any other architecture is decidedly also-ran by comparison.
Intel is going to find, sooner or later, that it is subject to the same market forces that crushed opposing architectures on the desktop in the 1990s, and in server rooms in the 2000s: When you have several manufacturers all competing with each other to offer cheap ARM-based parts, and just one Intel offering a non-standard part, it doesn't take a genius to realise that selling your Intel stock isn't a bad idea.
When 64-bit ARMs start hitting the market, that is when the fat lady will sing for Intel.
"... announcing shipment of Oak Trail and the 45-namometer Z670..."
Intel will never be competitive in the tablet/ultra-mobile/smartphone market until it starts giving its Atom/mobile processors and chipsets the same love Intel currently gives to its desktop and server offerings.
In the tablet/mobile space, it's all about performance per watt.
While Oak Trail does seem to be better suited to this market than the previous Atom kit Intel targeted for the mobile space, Oak Trail still doesn't seem to go "far enough" to be a viable competitor to the latest ARM SoCs out there.
Transistor junction sizes being equal, the x86/x86-64 architecture has **historically** needed to move a lot more electrons around to perform a given operation than an ARM core performing the same task.
I just don't see how Intel can be competitive in the mobile space with a 45nm part; it would have been better if they held off until Cedar Trail was ready at 32nm. And even that might not be enough, given that nVidia's Cortex-A9-based Tegra 2 is already out at 40nm, and will have shrunk to 28nm for the "Wayne" series release in 2012.
The other chap was obviously talking about choice from a consumer's perspective.
Sure, if you're a hardware developer there's going to be a wider choice of configurations you can develop against. The problem is, as stated above, this leaves the consumer at the mercy of the hardware company that made that specific product.
Want to run the latest version of Flash? Better hope Adobe has compiled a version that works on your specific flavour of ARM core.