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Intel's Atom is on a collision course with Core—and everybody loses

Mark Hachman | June 5, 2013
Here's the question that's keeping Intel up at night: If the latest.

But in trying to associate the Bay Trail chips with Intel's PC brands, Intel's marketing gurus have created a hot mess. On one hand, we have the Pentium, the name for Intel's flagship part—it was launched 20 years ago, in 1993. The Celeron isn't much better. That's the name Intel gave to its cut-rate, low-performance parts. If you wanted a cheap PC that could barely get the job done, you bought a Celeron. Granted, Intel's Atom doesn't have that much brand equity, either—it powered the first generation of Google TVs, for example, and the "Clover Trail" version of the chip produced middle-of-the-range performance in convertibles like the Samsung ATIV Smart PC.

But what consumers will be asking is a simple question: OK, so if I buy an ARM tablet, I get this: whatever Qualcomm or Nvidia or Samsung offer. So what can you do for me, Intel?

Instead of offering a simple answer—"This is our ARM killer, Atom"—it appears that Intel's response will be something like, "Oh, you'll want a Pentium, then. No, not the old one. The new one. See, there's the model number right there. Oh, and you can go with a Celeron, too. No, they're better. See, they're part of the Silvermont family. What's a Silvermont? Here, take some brochures..."

Put another way: Intel lists fifty-eight different Pentium modelsalone. How is a consumer going to know if he or she is buying the good "Bay Trail" Pentium, or one of the older, crappier ones?

Tablets will use "Bay Trail"—but will the Surface?
Sources within Intel say that Intel also plans to provide a "Bay Trail" derivative for tablets, dubbed "Bay Trail-T," that will be out by the holidays. The good news for Intel? It delivers "kick-ass quad-core performance," the source said. The bad news? It delivers "kick-ass quad-core performance".

The leader in the tablet market is ARM, which powers, well, almost everything in the tablet and mobile space. Intel has tried to make inroads via a partnership with Lenovo, and its Atom-powered K800 phone that's so far been sold exclusively in Asia. But that's a drop in the ocean compared to ARM.

ARM has already claimed that it will offer better performance per watt than the the Silvermont architecture driving Bay Trail, and Microsoft said last year that it will work with ARM to port its Windows 8 OS over to the first generation of ARM's 64-bit chips, due to sample later this year. But Windows RT on ARM has largely failed, and Samsung has chosen an Atom chip to power its Galaxy Tab 3 tablet (albeit the older Clover Trail+ variant). Intel appears to have a windows of opportunity to exploit, if it can.


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