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Intel gets aggressive with pricing, OS tuning, and looks ahead to die shrinks

"It's a question of whether you'd rather have a jet engine or two propellers," Intel Corp. (INTC) mobile chief Mike Bell tells CNN Money in a new interview.

I. Intel: We Have the Better Chips

Intel currently trails ARM Holdings Plc's (LON:ARM) coalition of chipmakers in the mobile chip market, with the ARM alliance owning over 95 percent of smartphone and tablet processor sales by volume.  At the 2013 Mobile World Congress, Intel is trying different strategies to lure buyers away from ARM.  It has scored some design wins with its new Lexington chip, the Intel Atom Z2420, which is popping up in Android tablets as cheap as $250 USD.

That aggressive pricing could help Intel.  At a 2013 Consumer Electronics Show press event, an Intel executive told us that his company is finding itself in a foreign position in which it has faster hardware, but is being rejected by some OEMs because of (alleged) backdoor dealings with ARM.

ARM owns 95+ percent of the mobile processor market. [Image Source: ARM/Facebook]

On paper one disadvantage that Intel's Atom smartphone processor carry is a lower core count.  While ARM chips like Qualcomm Inc.'s (QCOM) Snapdragon 600 or NVIDIA Corp.'s (NVDA) Tegra 4 typically have a quad-core layout, Intel's current smartphone chips are single-core.

And yet Intel still manages to beat many multi-core ARM chips in benchmarks due to its strong single-threaded performance, indicating that core-count may be a misleading metric.

II. Tuning the OS

Intel is also looking to get an inside track via working with operating system makers to fine-tune OS code for mobile x86 chips.  Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android is, of course, the biggest target.

Android statues
Intel is working with Google to optimize Android on Atom. [Image Source: AndroidModo]
"To be successful in this industry, simply building chips is insufficient.  We can write software that helps us get the most out of our hardware.  We have a great relationship with Google.  We can do as good a job optimizing our systems as anyone, and Google has never told us 'no' when we have said we'd like to improve performance somewhere," says Mr. Bell.

Intel is also co-developing a new Linux-kernel operating system called Tizen with Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930).  The Version 2.0 test build of Tizen was shown at MWC 2013 running on demo hardware.  Early builds appear unimpressive -- comments  PCMag's Alex Colon, "[Tizen] was also pretty slow. Now, this build of Tizen is only weeks old, but I experienced a lot of lag in pulling down that notifications menu, not to mention uncomfortably long load times for apps."

But Samsung may be eager to refine the new operating system as a means of ditching Google and keeping more mobile advertising revenue itself.  That could in turn boost Intel, the official Tizen hardware partner.

Intel is bringing its 22 nm mobile platform (core: Silvermont; SoC: ValleyView; chipset: Bay Trail) to bear later this year in the tablet space, with 22 nm smartphone chips likely shipping earlier next year.  Intel's 32 nm smartphone chips are decent peformers, but the shift to 22 nm is expected to give a big boost in battery life, a critical metric in the mobile space.

Source: CNN Money

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Intel will easily conquer this market.
By 91TTZ on 2/27/2013 5:03:18 PM , Rating: 4
Intel is trailing right now but they're such a huge company with so many engineers that they'll quickly catch up and surpass ARM.

I remember several years ago when Intel was trailing AMD in performance. AMD took the performance crown, Intel got angry, threw a bunch of money around to hire tons of great engineers and then came out with the Pentium M and Core CPUs. They've held a performance lead since then.

Intel will do the same thing to ARM. They have too much talent to be second place. I'm not saying that they're nice about it or that I like the company, I'm just saying that they're the much more powerful competitor and will win.

RE: Intel will easily conquer this market.
By Amiga500 on 2/28/2013 4:30:45 AM , Rating: 3
Your point is?

[Other than seemingly boasting?]

By Cypherdude1 on 3/1/2013 3:46:28 PM , Rating: 2
If you're planning to upgrade your Intel desktop or laptop computer, you'll probably want to wait until Haswell arrives and then wait a few months more for them to perfect it. Early November/late October would probably be the best time frame. Haswell is scheduled to arrive in June 2013. The best time to buy the latest & greatest tech is probably a few weeks before Black Friday. Contrary to popular belief, Black Friday doesn't always give you the best deal.

Haswell has numerous upgrades. They include faster built-in graphics, faster general performance, and much better power savings. The latter is more for laptops and tablets. Of course, if a CPU uses less power, it also runs cooler so this applies to everything.

The accompanying mobo's probably also have upgrades. Hopefully, these will include a chipset which incorporates better built-in SATA III for the newest SSD's and USB 3.x.

One problem I will have if I upgrade is the desktop case. My last 2 systems have had a case with a front door to prevent dust contamination and 2 - 80 mm fans in the lower front. I also made a filter which I placed in front of the 2 bottom front fans. This is what I am currently using:

Unfortunately, they no longer make this style and they cannot accommodate the larger Extended-ATX mobo's anyway. This is a simple and inexpensive design. I don't understand why they can't simply make the case 2 inches longer from front to back and add newer connectors in the front. The above case has USB 2.0, FireWire (which I do not use), headphone and mic connections. All they would need to do is replace the FireWire with USB 3.0 and add SATA connectors in the front.

RE: Intel will easily conquer this market.
By stimudent on 2/28/2013 12:23:45 AM , Rating: 3
Don't forget Intel's expertise in kickbacks to manufacturers and other questionable business conduct in the marketplace. These things will help them as well.

By JKflipflop98 on 2/28/2013 1:14:09 AM , Rating: 3
Puhleese. The whole "kickback" thing is equivalent to Coke buying an agreement with Regal cinemas.

RE: Intel will easily conquer this market.
By TSS on 2/28/2013 9:11:02 AM , Rating: 1
The penium M and core's where a direct result of returning back to the pentium 3 and upgrading it with lessons learned from netburst and the progress in die shrinks since then, accomplished by a small israeli development team.

If intel threw any money around it was trying to bury AMD with netburst. Which escalated all the way to the Plutonium-D (though everybody seems to have forgotten about that one).

In the ARM space they have no previous architecture to fall back on and they have to compete on a level playing field. Which shows the amount of talent they've lost over the years - they're definitly lagging behind. And i doubt they can make up for it because they're such a large company - large companies move slow and have alot of overhead. Not a good thing in a market that changes incredibly fast.

Which isn't a bad thing by the way. Do we really want Intel to get even bigger? Don't forget, as soon as they're comfortably in the lead they will stop all meaningfull development. They did it with the pentium 4, they would do it with the cores if AMD wasn't just 1 more pentium 4 away at any given point from crawling back into the lead.

By 91TTZ on 2/28/2013 11:22:47 AM , Rating: 2
The thing is that Intel can afford to develop multiple architectures simultaneously while its competitors cannot. If Intel wanted to make full-force push into the mobile space they'd have no problem developing an architecture that performed well.

Intel is pretty agile for a large company. Their tick-tock strategy seemed to push performance faster than AMD could keep up.

I agree that they tend to abuse their position and they if they could charge more for products without innovating they would.

RE: Intel will easily conquer this market.
By rwei on 2/28/2013 3:26:27 PM , Rating: 2
IIRC Intel has a full ARM architecture license, and while they seem to have sold their old XScale division they used to make ARM chips.

But why would they put efforts into ARM, which has several well-equipped and capable competitors, when in x86 they have a clear lead and several decades of legacy code to support them? I'd imagine Intel is going to gun for x86 for as long as it's feasible it could come out on top for markets from PCs down to phones (maybe further?).

If they *did* decide to develop ARM, then they would have the advantage of manufacturing facilities that are 1-1.5 generations ahead of their competition, as well as integration with manufacturing that none of the other parties can match.

And as another related point, CPU design is ultimately a matter of picking the best trade-offs for your target workflow - and I don't think any company has shown the level of expertise that Intel has, across the entire power consumption spectrum. You can already see the ARM-based designers struggling with architecture in the current generation, with the huge jump in power consumption to A15.

By 91TTZ on 2/28/2013 4:26:38 PM , Rating: 2
Well said.

By tybear on 3/3/2013 9:42:49 PM , Rating: 2
Intel thought it would be easy but it turned out it is going to take a little longer then they thought.

Here is why

1) Design/architecture: Intel has a lot of designers and they will slowely get a their act togather and do the same as everyone else. There is really nothing that sets ARM capability apart here. Just a matter of time till Intel gets it togather

2) Silicon technology and manufacturing capability: Here NOBODY is close and Intel is pulling ahead, fix 1) and NOTHING can compete.

Look at the RISC battles where Alpha, SPARC, and PowerPC all lost to superior technology pulling ahead. Not saying TSMC and Samsung aren't good, but they simply aren't catching up, falling behind.

He who has superior technology will win in the end!

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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