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A new set of chips promises to power everything from wearables to high-end PCs
Intel shows off its big chip hopes
Intel has been struggling as the world quickly shifts away from its bread and butter: chips for PCs. It has promised lots of low-power chips for several years, but they haven't been well received, driving the new generation of mobile and wearable devices to chips based on the ARM designs and made by others.
In June's Computex show, Intel talked up its new answer to the post-PC problem. This week, at its IDF (Intel Developer Forum), it began moving from talk to real products, though there was still much talk.
Coming in 2014: 14nm "Broadwell"
Although Samsung and IBM are also working on the technology, Intel is first to make it happen. "It" is the 14-nanometer chip, a huge jump in shrinking chips that many thought was not possible to accomplish, especially as the previous leap to 22nm chips got to market just two years ago.
But Intel says its "Broadwell" Core SoCs (systems-on-a-chip) will come to market next year, powering computers, tablets, and so on. Not only are they smaller, they use 30 percent less power than today's best chips, and they support new capabilities like 3D imaging.
"Quark": The chip that can power nearly anything
This week at IDF, new Intel CEO Brian Krzanich surprised the crowd by unveiling "Quark," an x86-based chip that is tiny and uses little power. It's meant for wearable devices and sensors, such as for medical devices. Intel President Renée James says it'll be a fifth the size and use a tenth the power of the smallest Atom chips, now mostly used in netbooks and some tablets.
She says they'll be "disposable," which may mean they'll be much, much cheaper than typical Intel chips. Pricing and availability, though, are unknown.
"Haswell" makes it way to Chromebooks
The Chrome OS-based laptop, aka a Chromebook, got off to a poor start when it debuted two years ago, with poor hardware and an OS that did little. Chromebooks remain problematic, but they're gaining traction in the cheapest end of the laptop spectrum (those under $300). And Google continues to improve the Chrome OS, though it still has a ways to go.
Nonetheless, a new set of Chromebooks from several makers is due for the holidays, and they'll use the low-power "Haswell" Core i3 chip that debuted earlier this year in the MacBook Air, promising to give Chromebooks much better battery life -- and no longer need a cooling fan.
"Bay Trail" may end Atom's curse in tablets
For five years now, Intel has touted the Atom chip as the perfect chip to power inexpensive devices like netbooks and tablets. But they've been pokey performers and power hogs to boot, so Atom-based devices fill computing's bargain bin.
The new 22nm "Bay Trail" version of Atom looks to change that, delivering reasonable performance and good energy efficiency at a low price. We'll find out around the holidays, when cheaper Windows and Android tablets, as well as Windows hybrid devices, arrive with "Bay Trail" inside.
"Merrifield" aims to finally get Intel inside smartphones
As tough as the slogging has been for Atom in tablets, its smartphone version has done even worse. In fact, Intel's presence in smartphones is close to to zero. The 22nm "Merrifield" Atom chip is Intel's bid to get adoption in smartphones, nearly all of which use various ARM-based chips. "Merrifield" is basically "Bay Trail" with communications and sensor capabilities included, such as for GPS.
We may see another prototype "Merrifield" smartphone in February 2014 at the Mobile World Conference (one was shown at Computex in June). But as ARM chipmakers continue to advance that platform -- Apple has a 64-bit A7 chip in the new iPhone 5s -- Intel has a big challenge to get any takers.