Intel's Core M chips headed to 20 Windows tablets, hybrids

Intel said tablets or hybrids with Core M could be priced starting at US$699, but the first products are at around $1,000 or more

Intel Core M processor die (2)

Intel Core M processor die (2)

Intel's new Core M chips -- which bring PC-like performance to paper-thin tablets -- will initially be in many Windows 8.1 tablets, but no Android devices are yet on the radar.

The chips will be in five to seven detachable tablets and hybrids by year end, and the number of devices could balloon to 20 next year, said Andy Cummins, mobile platform marketing manager at Intel.

Core M chips, announced at the IFA trade show in Berlin on Friday, are the first based on the new Broadwell architecture. The processors will pave the way for a new class of thin, large-screen tablets with long battery life, and also crank up performance to run full PC applications, Intel executives said in interviews.

"It's about getting PC-type performance in this small design," Cummins said. "[Core M] is much more optimized for thin, fanless systems."

Tablets with Core M could be priced as low as US$699, but the initial batch of detachable tablets introduced at IFA are priced much higher. Lenovo's 11.6-inch ThinkPad Helix 2 starts at $999, Dell's 13.3-inch Latitude 13 7000 starts at $1,199, and Hewlett-Packard's 13.3-inch Envy X2 starts at $1,049.99. The products are expected to ship in September or October.

Core M was also shown in paper-thin prototype tablets running Windows and Android at the Computex trade show in June. PC makers have not expressed interest in building Android tablets with Core M, but the OS can be adapted for the chips, Cummins said.

The dual-core chips draw as little as 4.5 watts, making it the lowest-power Core processor ever made by Intel. The clock speeds start at 800MHz when running in tablet mode, and scales up to 2.6GHz when running PC applications.

The power and performance characteristics make Core M relevant primarily for tablets. The chips are not designed for use in full-fledged PCs, Cummins said.

"If you are interested in the highest-performing parts, Core M probably isn't the exact right choice. But if you are interested in that mix of tablet form factor, detachable/superthin form factor, this is where the Core M comes into play," Cummins said.

For full-fledged laptops, users could opt for the upcoming fifth-generation Core processor, also based on Broadwell, Cummins said. Those chips are faster and will draw 15 watts of power or more, and be in laptops and desktops early next year.

New features in Core M curbed power consumption, and Intel is claiming performance gains compared to chips based on the older Haswell architecture. Tablets could offer around two more hours of battery life with Core M.

In internal benchmarks, the dual-core Core M 5Y70 CPU provided faster application and graphics performance compared to the Haswell-based Core i5-4302Y chip operating at 4.5 watts. The Core M chip was faster by 19 percent on office productivity, 12 percent on Web applications, 47 percent on 3D graphics and 82 percent on video conversion.

The new 14-nanometer manufacturing process also helped reduce the Core M size and power consumption. Intel's current chips are made using the 22-nm process.

"We needed to have smaller transistors and smaller die, which leads to a smaller package" that can fit inside thin tablets, Cummins said.

More innovative features are in store for devices with Core M. Starting in early 2015, there will be an option for wireless docking through WiGig, a wireless technology faster than Wi-Fi. Intel is currently developing a "smart dock" through which laptops can wirelessly connect to monitors and external peripherals like mice and keyboards.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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