Intel wants to put Moorestown chips into tablets

That could be the next growth area for the Atom CPU

Intel is going after the tablet market for its low-power processors, including an upcoming Atom processor designed for mobile phones, the company said.

Earlier this week, OpenPeak released a reference design for a tablet using one of those upcoming chips, code-named Moorestown. The tablet will have an Atom-based CPU. The OpenTablet 7 tablet comes with a touchscreen is designed for multimedia and video communications, the company said. It is as slim as a photo frame, and weighs 1.15 pounds (0.52 kilograms), the company said.

Tablets are a potential growth area for newer and upcoming low-power, low-cost Atom processors, said Suzy Ramirez, an Intel spokeswoman.

"But it is by no means confined to Atom -- Intel has a range of products that will enable various tablet computing designs," Ramirez said. She did not specify which chips.

Smartphones with the Moorestown chip have already been shown. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Intel's CEO Paul Otellini showed LG Electronics' GW990 smartphone, which uses that chip and is scheduled to ship later this year. Finnish company Aava Mobile also showed a smartphone prototype with the Moorestown chip at the Mobile World Congress this week in Barcelona.

The OpenTablet reference design will ship in the second half of this year, OpenPeak said. Intel has pegged release for the Moorestown chip at around the same time.

Intel has little presence in the mobile space beyond netbooks, most of which carry Atom chips, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. Because the growth rate for PC sales continues to slow, Intel has to look at new markets like tablets and smartphones to grow, McCarron said. A year ago, Intel said would spend US$7 billion over two years to revamp manufacturing plants in an effort to make smaller, more power-efficient chips as it tries to enter new markets.

Tablets and smartphones require low-power processors, so Atom is the chip for the company to use to jump into new markets, McCarron said. The Atom processor is based on the x86 architecture used in laptop and desktop chips, and Moorestown is perhaps Intel's first low-power x86 chip that can fit into devices out laptops and netbooks, McCarron said.

"Ultimately that's Intel's goal -- not world domination, but x86 domination," McCarron said. "They want to push x86 down to as many market segments as they can."

However, Intel faces a big challenger in rival Arm, whose processors go into most smartphones and are quickly making their way into tablets. Many tablets shown at CES in January use Arm processors. Companies like Dell and Lenovo have already announced tablets with Arm chips. Apple's iPad tablet contains an Apple A4 chip, which is also rumored to have an Arm processor.

Despite Intel's efforts, Arm is a step ahead in developing lower-power processors that may be ideal for tablets or smartphones, McCarron said. Intel has attempted to reduce Atom's power consumption, but it could take years for Intel to come close to catching up with Arm, McCarron said.

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