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Intel marries Chinese chippery firm to SoC it to low-end tablet market

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Intel CEO Brian Krzanich has announced Chipzilla's lastest move in his effort to "take pragmatic and different approaches" to tackling the low-end of the tablet market: partnering with Chinese fabless semiconductor company and mobile SoC maker Rockchip to design an Atom-based, Intel-branded platform that will be targeted primarily at global "entry and value" tablet markets.

"The strategic agreement with Rockchip is an example of Intel's commitment to take pragmatic and different approaches to grow our presence in the global mobile market by more quickly delivering a broader portfolio of Intel architecture and communications technology solutions," said Krzanich in statement.

The new platform will extend Intel's low-end, low-cost SoFIA mobile effort, announced last November, and will marry a 64-bit quad-core Atom processor to an Intel 3G modem.

The new Rockchip+Intel platform is expected in the first half of next year, following an Intel-only dual-core version of SoFIA expected by the end of this year. Intel has also said that its LTE version of the platform will appear at around the same time as the platform announced on Tuesday.

During a call with reporters and analysts after the announcement, Krzanich was more specific about the reasons behind partnering with Rockchip – namely a combination of Rockchip's IP and its contacts and relationships with the fast-growing China ODMs and OEMs, to which Rockship will supply the parts.

"Rockchip will focus mainly on its customer base in the China tech ecosystem," he said, "and we will focus on the variety of other customers that we normally focus on." But when asked how revenues and profits of that split will be handled, the Intel CEO demurred. "I can't go into the profits or exactly what will happen with the sales dollars," he said.

About Rockchip's IP contributions, Krzanich said, "We haven't finished and announced what the final architecture will be, but we're bringing the Atom core and the comms and the SoFIA architecture itself – how the SoFIA is laid out and put together. But things like graphics, and connectivity – what types of connectivity on there targeting directly for that marketplace – those are the types of IPs that they will likely bring."

By "that marketplace," Krzanich was referring to tablets in what he called the fastest-growing tablet markets: namely sub-$100 and sub-$150 tablets, specifically in the Chinese markets.

And it's Rockchip's experience among the ODMs and OEMs creating and selling those tablets that Intel hopes to capitalize on. "They absolutely bring these relationships and partnerships that go well beyond what ours are currently," Krzanich said.

By partnering with Rockchip, Krzanich said that Intel would be able to get a quad-core SoFIA product out – one that sits between the dual-core 3G platform it will ship later this year and the quad-core LTE platform that'll ship next year – "that wouldn't probably otherwise get onto our roadmap in this time frame."

This new platform is an addition to Intel's SoFIA roadmap, he said – those other platforms are still in the pipeline and on schedule. Also, like those two other SoFIA products, the one announced on Tuesday will be fabbed at TSMC. Once Intel gets its 16nm process technology up to speed, however, SoFIA manufacturing with be "moved internally."

Krzanich said that although he had no other such partnerships to announce, there was no exclusivity baked into the Rockchip deal. He also noted that there was no requirement that Rockchip turn down deals for its ARM-based products, but that "I hope they love this product so much, though, that they realize this is the one to sell." ®

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