Intel's new 'Bay Trail' chip to bring budget convertible PCs to the market

PCs using the Bay Trail chip will cost under $US599

Intel's upcoming "Bay Trail" Atom processor is aimed at the low-end market, and promises to deliver convertible PCs and notebooks with all-day battery life at budget prices.

"We think this is going to significantly expand the volume of Intel architecture-based systems, both for Windows 8 and alternative operating systems," said Kirk Skaugen, general manager for Intel's PC client group.

Previously, Intel had said its Bay Trail Atom chip was meant for tablets. Now Intel expects convertible and detachable PCs, along with desktops, will also use the processor, Skaugen said at Intel's annual IDF event in Beijing. He expects such products to cost under US$599.

The new chip line is Intel's successor to its previous mobile processor, codenamed "Clover Trail." The Bay Trail chips, however, use an entirely new microarchitecture meant to bring gains in power efficiency and processing speeds. In addition, the new chips will allow for fan-less designs, and can contain up to four cores. Products built with Bay Trail will launch by the end of this year.

Intel gave the details on its new processors as the company tries to revive lagging PC sales. Increasingly, consumers are buying Apple and Android tablets built with processors from its rival U.K.-based ARM Holdings. Some of those tablets, such as the iPad Mini, are priced at US$329 or even lower.

Intel's Bay Trail chip, however, could help the company better address the low-end market. Since mid-2010, Intel has tried to bring back PC sales by promoting Ultrabooks, a new class of slim laptops packed with high-performance and cutting edge features. Intel's next generation of Ultrabooks, for example, will all come with touchscreen displays.

But so far, the products have failed to ship in large numbers. In 2012, so-called "ultraslim" laptops, which include Intel Ultrabooks and Apple's MacBook Air, made up only 6 percent of the 200 million notebooks shipped, said Bryan Ma, an analyst with research firm IDC. Among the reasons is Ultrabook pricing, which initially started at US$999.

"Intel had a bit of an identity crisis. When they created the Ultrabook platform it was meant to be a premium product in response to the MacBook Air," Ma said. "Unfortunately, at the time, tablets were becoming popular. So Intel had to figure out if the Ultrabook was still a premium product."

Intel has since responded by gradually cutting the price of Ultrabooks, which are expected to reach as low as $599 later this year. The company's Bay Trail chip, however, will pave the way for more "entry-level" notebooks, Skaugen said. Although laptops using Bay Trail will not be branded as Ultrabooks, the devices will still offer high performance including all-day battery life, he added.

Along with Bay Trail, Intel is launching this quarter its fourth-generation Core processor, codenamed "Haswell", which the company said can bring laptop battery life to nine or ten hours. Together, Bay Trail and Haswell could help Intel better compete against rival ARM, which has dominated the mobile devices market with its own power-efficient processors, Ma said.

"It's encouraging to see what Intel is doing with Bay Trail," he added. But the next generation of Intel-powered PCs could still be hard sell for consumers. "Unfortunately, something outside of their control is Windows 8," he said, which features far fewer mobile apps than Google's Android and Apple's iOS operating systems. Consumers may instead choose the alternatives, he added.

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Michael Kan

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