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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
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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RE: Funny...
By Solandri on 2/28/2013 5:04:11 AM , Rating: 2
This is RISC vs CISC all over again (reduced instruction set computer vs complex instruction set computer). The R in ARM stands for RISC - Advanced RISC Machine. Intel's CPUs have all been CISC.

RISC is a design philosophy using simple but fast hardware, with the more complex instructions being done in software. CISC philosophy is an extensive instruction set with even the complex instructions implemented in hardware.

So far, CISC has won pretty much every round. There were a few RISC processors which briefly held their own (e.g MIPS for early Unix workstations, and IBM's Power architecture used in the PowerPC and PS3). But CISC has always managed to come out ahead in the end.

That's not to say it'll be true this round as well. Intel's component pricing for Atom is around $40-$70. ARM processor pricing is around $15-$25. That's a huge difference when you'll be selling the device for $199. What allowed Intel to win in previous processor battles despite the price difference was that performance was king. But in mobile devices, power consumption and price frequently trump performance. So I suspect Intel will win out in the end, but I wouldn't count on it.


RE: Funny...
By piroroadkill on 2/28/2013 6:24:19 AM , Rating: 2
I thought it was Acorn Reduced Instruction Set Computer Machine, not advanced.
Good old Acorn machines...


RE: Funny...
By 91TTZ on 2/28/2013 11:57:07 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
RISC is a design philosophy using simple but fast hardware, with the more complex instructions being done in software. CISC philosophy is an extensive instruction set with even the complex instructions implemented in hardware.


Years ago there was the fear that RISC would win out over CISC due to the greater inherent efficiency of RISC hardware, but CISC designs ended up incorporating all the hardware advantages of RISC.

Old CISC designs used to dedicate die space to handle the various instructions in the CISC design's larger instruction set. This made them less efficient compared to RISC designs which had much smaller instruction sets and required less dedicated die space for handling those instructions. But designers of CISC architectures began incorporating the RISC philosophy to their CISC designs, with the core of the CPU being almost pure RISC and using microcode to translate the larger CISC instruction set to the smaller set of instructions that the RISC core understands.

This started with the NexGen 5x86 and AMD K5, I believe. While the AMD K5 underperformed it had a pretty radical design. AMD used their 29k RISC processor architecture and tacked on a unit to translate x86 instructions to 29k RISC instructions. AMD ended up buying NexGen and NexGen's 6x86 became the AMD K6. From then on, all x86 CPUs have been RISC internally.


RE: Funny...
By bug77 on 2/28/2013 4:33:33 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
designers of CISC architectures began incorporating the RISC philosophy to their CISC designs, with the core of the CPU being almost pure RISC and using microcode to translate the larger CISC instruction set to the smaller set of instructions that the RISC core understands


Spot on, but there is still dedicated hardware to break down CISC instructions into microops. Meanwhile, the difficulty of programming for RISC has lowered considerably with advances in compilers and such.
From a technical point of view, I think RISC has the means to prevail eventually. At the same time, the best doesn't always win. Plus, Intel is a juggernaut, they could keep Itanium around for a decade after anyone could see it was a dead platform. (Thanks AMD for putting the final nail in that coffin.)


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