Intel will launch a whopping 35 Atom-based tablets next year. Those tablets are powered by two different platforms -- Oak Trail, which features fancier I/O, and Moorestown, a leaner platform.  (Source: Intel via CNET)

[Click to enlarge] Moorestown does not support PCIe or SATA, thus only Linux distributions like Meego and Android can run on it. Windows 7 tablets require Intel's alternative Oak Trail platform.  (Source: Intel via Anandtech)
Oak Trail and Moorestown are looking good, Medfield not so much

Determined not to be left behind as society transitions towards a more mobile computing paradigm, Intel vowed to deliver strong entries to the tablet and smartphone sectors.  At a Barclays Capital 2010 Global Technology Conference, it delivered an update on its progress.  Long story short, things are looking good on the tablet front, but not so good on the smartphone front.


Intel CEO Paul Otellini's big news was that 35 tablets powered by Intel's Atom processor will launch next year.  Describing the tablet platforms, he states:

We have two flavors of products.  One carries our PC legacy, the codename is Oak Trail. This is for the Windows environment. That's important for people who want the advantage of PC peripheral compatibility. All the printers in the world work, all the USB drivers in the world work. Any PC peripheral will work perfectly well with Oak Trail. [It is a] very solid, high-performance, low-power version of Atom.

We have an even more optimized [Atom] version called Moorestown. For people who want the most lightweight, longest battery life, thinnest machine. It doesn't carry the PC compatibility. It's got the x86 instruction set, so Internet compatibility is there, but we're not worrying about legacy support [in Windows].

Oak Trail and Moorestown are both four-chip designs -- a power management chip, a wireless I/O chip, and North/South Hubs.  They share identical North Hub chips, with both having a Lincroft system-on-a-chip up north.  The Lincroft SoC includes one or more Silverthorne-derivative Atom cores, an Intel GMA 600 graphics core (OpenGL ES 2.0, OpenGL 2.1, OpenVG 1.1, 400MHz), a memory controller, and video encode/decode units.  The entire chip is produced on a 45 nm process.

Where the two platforms differ is in their South Hub (also referred to as the "Platform Control Hub" - PCH).  Moorestown's South Hub includes an SSD controller, USB controller, an image processing blocks for webcams, audio I/O, and more.  Moorestown's PCH is dubbed "Langwell".  

By contrast Oak Trail packs a beefier PCH dubbed "Whitney Point", which adds PCIe and full SATA connectivity to the mix.  Thus, as Otellini stated, Windows 7 tablets will only be able to run on Oak Trail.  Both Oak Trail and Moorestown's PCHs are built on a 65 nm process.

The power management IC (PMIC), which Intel is contracting to an unknown third party adds one more chip to the mix.    The last chip(s) is/(are) the "Evans Peak" Hub, the wireless hub of the system.  Intel offers a single chip solution, which will support Bluetooth 2.1, GPS, Wi-Fi, and 2.5 GHz Wi-Max (incompatible with the 2.3 GHz/3.0 GHz networks of South Korea and other countries).  Third parties can add in extra chips to this hub -- say for EV-DO (3G) connectivity, or LTE (4G) connectivity.

Intel's slides reveal that a number of the biggest computer makers will be trying their hands at Windows tablets (Oak Trail-powered, remember) in 2011.  Those players include Toshiba, Lenovo, Dell, ASUS, and Fujitsu.  Conspicuously absent was Acer (which is plugging Meego... more in a second) and HP, which is presumably working on webOS designs.

A number of newer names -- Motion Computing, Cosmos, and EXOPC will also be trying their hand at Windows tablets.  Expect a variety of form factors (5-inch, 7-inch, 10-inch) from these players.

The slides also reveal a number of Android and Meego tablets are incoming in 2011, powered by Atom.  Note these tablets may be running Moorestown 
or Oak Trail -- it's anyone's guess.  

High-profile Android tablet makers include ASUS, Cisco, AT&T, Lenovo, and Dell.  Open Peak and Avaya are a couple of the fresher faces.  Meego, a rival Linux distribution that's the fusion of Intel's Moblin distribution codebase and Nokia's Maemo codebase, is also going to be popping up in a handful of tablets.  Acer is listed as exclusively producing Meego tablets, which may give the platform a boost.  The remaining Meego partakers -- Indamixx, Gemtek, and WeTab -- aren't exactly household names yet.

Intel's Windows 7, Android, and Meego tablets will combat the incredibly popular iPad, and several existing Android designs, both of which are based on the rival ARM architecture.  Key ARM chipmakers include Samsung (who co-designed the iPad's core with Intrinsity), Qualcomm, and NVIDIA.

Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


Whither art thou, Intel smartphones?  

As Intel's ARM architecture rivals cook up ever nastier dual core designs, with blazing speeds and lean power envelopes, Intel has let its own smartphone offerings slip yet further into the future.  Intel had hoped to get something out the door in 2011, based on previous comments, but Mr. Otellini's press conference left it ambiguous whether Intel will actually ship smartphone products to customers next year.

He stated, "It's a marathon, not a sprint. ["Medfield" is] in customer sampling...for shipment [in phones] in 2011 and 2012. You will see smartphones from premier-branded vendors in the marketplace in [the second quarter of] 2011 with Intel silicon inside them."

Medfield relies on a more advanced Atom core, the 32 nm successor to Silverthorne.

"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini

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