From calculators to tablets, Intel to emphasize mobile era

Intel will announce new tablets based on Bay Trail processors at Intel Developer Forum next week

Intel’s Brian Krzanich

Intel’s Brian Krzanich

Intel's dominance of the chip market is starting to wane as PC shipments slump and smartphone and tablet adoption grows, but the manufacturer will try to prove it can make fast and power-efficient processors for mobile devices at its annual developer gathering next week.

At the Intel Developer Forum, the company will introduce low-power Atom chips code-named Bay Trail, which will go into tablets that are priced from US$150. The show will also be a litmus test for new CEO Brian Krzanich, who will deliver the keynote speech on Sept. 10 and highlight Intel's long-term strategy as the company diversifies into the mobile market.

Krzanich replaced the popular Paul Otellini in May this year, and has put mobile chips at the top of his priority list. He has also created a "new devices" group that will focus on emerging areas like wearables. The chip maker is already planning to release a TV service through its own set-top box, and Krzanich may touch upon the wearable devices during his opening keynote on Sept. 10.

A distraction will be an Apple product launch event on Sept. 10, which starts just one hour after Krzanich's keynote begins. Apple's iPhone 5 launch event was held last year on Sept. 10, one day ahead of IDF, but chatter about the smartphone and other Apple products lingered on the IDF floor for the entire show. Apple is expected to launch new iPhones at its event.

The transition to mobile is one of the more challenging issues for Intel since the chip maker made its first 4004 chip for calculators in 1971. Aided by Windows, Intel went on to thrive in the PC market, but is now just catching up to ARM in tablets and smartphones. Though the Wintel alliance remains alive, Intel has now adopted the widely used Android operating systems for mobile devices as it tries to gain market share.

Intel has also struggled to dispel a notion that its low-power mobile chips are watered-down versions of its power-hungry x86 PC chips, an idea the company will try to debunk at the show through its Bay Trail chips. Based on the Silvermont architecture, the chips have an all-new design and will be available in dual-core and quad-core variants.

Intel claims Bay Trail tablets will have longer battery life and better performance compared to its Atom chips. Intel hopes Bay Trail will be a legitimate competitor to ARM, and the companies have already traded barbs on superiority in performance and power efficiency.

Intel has said Bay Trail tablets will start at US$150. The first few models will likely be priced at about $400 or more and run Windows 8.1, but some Android models shipping toward the end of the year will be lower in price. Tablets with ARM processors and Android are available for under $100 in some cases, though some popular brands such as Google's Nexus 7 start at over $200.

Intel is also extending Bay Trail chips to low-cost Windows 8, Android and Chrome OS laptops and desktops. The company will also highlight developments in ultrabooks, which are thin and light laptops that can also function as tablets. Adoption of ultrabooks has been poor due to high product prices, but Lenovo and Dell in the past month have announced new laptops and hybrids based on Intel's fourth-generation Core processors, code-named Haswell.

The chip maker is also expected to announce new server chips, and will also touch upon new data center technologies such as optical networking. Intel is tuning many of its server chips specific to software applications, and many technology briefing sessions will be focused on software development for big data, supercomputing and mobile devices.

Intel is also dabbling in the area of open-source PCs and the "Internet of things." In addition, the company will demonstrate Thunderbolt 2, which will transfer data between host PCs and peripherals at twice the speed of its current 10G bps (bits per second) rate.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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Tags consumer electronicsserverssmartphoneshardware systemsComponentstabletslaptopsintelIDF

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