Intel was all over the place at CES yesterday, despite the fact that it didn’t have much by the way of ‘new’ news to offer us. However, what the company did provide was a comprehensive look at its products, initiatives, and most importantly, its strategy for the year ahead.
Much has been made of the supposed threat that ARM-based systems pose to Intel’s dominance, with some pundits even suggesting that Intel might be in for a long and drawn out death over the next few years. Instead though, Intel has come out with all guns blazing, pushing a wealth of next-generation products that continue to emphasize reduced power consumption and better performance.
Above all else, Intel is stepping up its efforts to force its Atom processors into the mobile sphere, with smartphones, ultrabooks and ‘hybrids’ all firmly fixed in the company’s sights. Meanwhile, if its revamped Ivy Bridge processors and its new Haswell chips are anything to go by, Intel doesn’t plan on giving an inch in its most dominant sphere of interest – PCs.
Smarter Atoms for Smarter Phones
Perhaps the most interesting news to come out of CES yesterday is Intel’s continued push into the smartphone sector – a charge that will be led by its new “Lexington” Atom Z2420 CPU with XMM 6265. Intel says that its new dual-core, 1.2GHz chip is targeted at low-end smartphones, which means that it will feature primarily in emerging markets like South America and Africa.
For such a small chip the Z2420 packs quite a powerful punch, with HDSPA 3G plus and HD Video encoding and decoding support. In addition, the chip can easily power a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera with up to seven frames per second in burst mode.
On the downside, Lexington integrates the same SGX 540 PowerVR GPU used in Intel’s Medfield, a bit of an old design these days but more than likely good enough to do the job it’s intended for – even if it doesn’t really stand up to well compared to more recent processors. To date, Acer, Lava and Safaricom have all said they’ll be building phones using Lexington chips.
Intel didn’t say much else about its future Atom plans, other than to hint again at its rumored Clover Trail Plus, which should deliver twice the power of Medfield and finally bring a long-awaited graphics core update.
As for the original Clover Trail Atom Z2760, a number of products running this have just started shipping, with about ten devices available to date. This might be seen as a bit of a disappointing start, but Intel seems undeterred by this. The company also took the opportunity at CES to tout Clover Trail’s successor, the Bay Trail, which will be built using the same 22nm manufacturing process as Haswell and Ivy Bridge.
Ivy Bridge is Back (again)
Intel is still busying itself with trying to get its next-generation Haswell chips up and running, but in the meantime it’s come up with a stop-gap solution for those concerned with the poor battery life of the first generation of Windows 8 devices.
The big problem with 3rd generation Ivy Bridge chips was their power rating (TDP), consuming on average about 17 watts of power – something that’s fatal for the battery life of today’s ultrabooks and laptops. So, PC makers will surely be welcoming Intel’s remedy to that problem – it’s 4th generation Ivy Bridge processors that come with a TDP of just 7 watts.
Intel said that both Lenovo and Acer will be bringing out PCs built with the new chips this spring. We’re especially looking forward to seeing what Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 11S will be capable of – essentially it’s a smaller, more lightweight version of the IdeaPad Yoga 13, which has proven itself to be one of the best 1st generation Windows 8 devices around. Given that the IdeaPad Yoga 11S is smaller, the extended battery life will definitely appeal to consumers looking for more of a ‘tablet’ than a ‘laptop’ with their convertible device.
Here with analysis on Intel’s strategy is contributing editor John Cassaretto, who appeared on this morning’s NewsDesk program with Kristin Feledy:
Haswell Looms on the Horizon
Haswell remains by far and away the biggest ace up Intel’s sleeve, and while we can’t quite be sure when it will arrive, there’s no doubt that it will be here at some point. At CES yesterday, Intel showed off a prototype convertible laptop running Haswell with a screen that detaches into a tablet device – with batteries built into both the tablet and the keyboard section.
According to Intel, this configuration will extend the device’s battery life up to a whopping 13 hours, with the tablet alone offering up to ten hours of juice. Should this be true, that fact alone would surely be the clincher for vast numbers of business users – never mind Haswell’s superior performance on top of that.
By showing off Haswell for the first time, Intel has also done much to allay fears that it was having issues with the design or manufacturing of the chip, although we still wait with bated breath for a concrete release date.
It’s also worth mentioning the design of Intel’s prototype device briefly – the company said that it hopes this reference point will encourage system builders to create machines at lower price points than they have so far, with the aim being to get ultrabook-class convertible devices into the shops at prices as low as $599.
A Peek Into The Future
Intel finished up a very busy day at CES with a little look at what might be in store for the future, discussing something it calls “perceptual computing”. Intel says that it wants to develop devices that are better able to understand voice commands and pick up on more complex gestures.
According to Fudzilla, one example of this could be a TV that learns to recognize when the viewer gets up from the sofa and leaves the room, automatically pausing the movie or TV show they’re watching. Intel hopes that such features might help to make PCs more attractive to consumers again.
Finally, we also got a quick look at a seemingly revolutionary new device that Intel has designed alongside UK firm Plastic Logic – a flexible, paper-thin, multi-display tablet known as the PaperTab.
As well as being lightweight and flexible (and perhaps, helping us to save the trees!), the most curious aspect of this prototype device is its multi-screen design. The ‘tablets’ are all synchronized together, yet each one is capable of running different apps independently, with users able to share information between different apps by just tapping two PaperTabs together. In addition, they also seem to be perfectly suited for e-reading – simply ‘bend’ the screen to flip through the pages, or alternatively join two screens together to create a larger display.
It’s unclear if or when the PaperTab will actually be sold commercially, but the concept alone was certainly one of the biggest talking points of the day.