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Saturday, April 16, 2011
Intel's New Atom Processors Still Come Up Short Compared With Mobile Competitors

Although Intel's upcoming Oak Trail processors for low-power mobile devices are offering further integration and many features from the x86 architecture processors, the company still comes up short when compared with many of its mobile competitors.

At the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, Intel launched the latest product in its family of Atom processors, the Z670 - formerly codenamed Oak Trail. Intel was quick to tout "over 35 innovative tablet and hybrid designs" by some major OEMs, particularly in Asia. But, that?s where the excitement ends.

While the new processor continues on the Atom roadmap by offering further integration and all the bells and whistles from the x86 architecture processors, such as Intel's SpeedStep, Deeper Sleep, and High Definition Audio technology, it still comes up short when compared with many of its mobile competitors. The new processor still requires an I/O chipset, the SM35; does not offer alternative memory interfaces, such as package-on-package chip stacking; and is rated with a thermal design power of 3W, well above the smartphone processors being used in other tablet designs. Oak Trail is also being produced on Intel 45nm process technology, not the company?s state-of-the-art 32nm process technology.

"This seems a bit odd for a product that could benefit from the latest process technology to meet the requirements of power sensitive applications," Jim McGregor In-Stats' Chief Technology Strategist commented.

Even with the limitations, the Oak Trail processor continues to build on Intel's momentum in bringing the x86 architecture to lower power applications and is a great solution for netbooks, low-end PCs, and embedded applications that either use larger batteries than the consumer mobile devices or AC-powered devices that have cooling limitations. In addition, with the x86 instruction set, Oak Trail may be a good fit for tablets that require a full Windows environment, even though Intel does admit that the battery life may fall short of providing all-day support under certain usage models. Note that Intel also provides support for other operating systems including Android and MeeGo, the latter being the struggling platform jointly developed with Nokia.

Even with the launch of Oak Trail, Intel was quick to begin discussing the follow-on product Cedar Trail, which will debut in the second half of 2011. Cedar Trail will include support for Blu-ray 2.0, 1080p video, DisplayPort, Intel Wireless Display, Intel Wireless Music, PC Synch, and Fast Boot. Cedar Trail will also be manufactured on Intel's current 32nm process, but this will still be a generation behind Intel?s latest 22nm process on which the company will begin volume manufacturing during the same period. As with past process transitions, Intel will begin manufacturing the high volume products, PC processors, on the new technology before transitioning other product lines to the new process. While this strategy makes sense from a manufacturing standpoint, it does not aid Intel's product strategy to break into the lucrative mobile device market.

"While Oak Trail continues to strengthen Intel's Atom portfolio, it does not provide the technology leap the company needs to make a strong impact in mobile devices, " McGregor said.

Much of this is still being pinned to Intel's forthcoming Medfield processor generation, which has yet to be revealed.

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