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Intel flogging Atoms for belated push into mobile market

Haswell and Bay Trail in, Celeron out

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While the PC market may be stalling, Intel's new CEO Brian Krzanich has been laying out his plans for Chipzilla's progress in his post-results analysts' call on Wednesday – and the future, at least for the short term, is all about Atom and mobile.

"We've not always lived up to the standards that we've set for ourselves," he said. "Intel was slow to respond to the ultra-mobile PC trend and the results of that can be seen in the current market dynamics. The traditional PC market is down from our expectations at the beginning of the year but ultra-mobile devices like tablets are up."

Atom has always been somewhat of a red-headed stepchild in Intel's chip family, but Krzanich said that it will now be given equal weight in the lineup and will be extended from PCs and tablets to smartphones and on to servers. Graphics and communications hardware is increasingly going to be built onto the die, something system-on-a-chip buyers would appreciate, he said.

Intel will continue to work on its Xeon server chips, he said, but the main thrust for the company going forward is going to be bringing Haswell chips to desktops and ultrabooks, Bay Trail processors to lower-end laptops and tablets, and letting Atom fill in the gaps. It was the future of these systems that took up most of Krzanich's talk-time on the call.

The first quad-core Haswell processors are making their way into systems now, and Intel's partners will begin shipping dual-core systems in the second half of the year, he said. The Haswell systems have a 5x reduction in power consumption or three times the performance of the previous generation, he said, and he promised Intel's fanless Haswells will enable slim, powerful form factors.

Intel's Bay Trail architecture will support the lower need of the market, replacing Celeron in cheaper laptops, tablets, and base-level PCs. Bay Trail will lead to touch-enabled PCs for under $400 and sub-$150 tablets, he said, so there should be no cross-platform cannibalization.

"We don’t believe [Bay Trail] will be cannibalistic, what it really does is allows us to get into these markets that we're not in in a big way," Krzanich said.

By the end of the year, Intel will have these platforms up and running and its 14 nanometer chips will be onstream, with volume production kicking in during the first half of 2014. This will mean heavier capital expenditures in the second half of the year, but the improvements in speed and battery life these chips will bring will mean greater revenues for Intel than current chipsets offer, Krzanich said.

As for Intel's big iron systems, Krzanich said that he was heartened to see 98 per cent of the top 500 supercomputers are using Chipzilla silicon, and the company expects to make greater steps with the combination of Xeon chips and Fire accelerators.

But it's clear where Intel's focus lies, and it's all going to be about mobile. Intel has a long way to go to beat ARM and its many partners in this area – including Qualcomm, Samsung, Marvell, Apple, and others – but Krzanich has made clear that it's an area Intel must conquer in the future. ®

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