Intel wants to get inside your phone
It's no news that Intel is very late to the mobile processor game. But even Jim Turley, an analyst who is quite bearish on Intel's prospects in that market, concedes that the chip giant brings potent advantages to the table. "Intel can build a crappy design really well," he says.
"Crappy" (his word, not mine) aside, Intel's fabrication foundries (or "fabs") can build chips at a state-of-the-art 22 nanometers, and Intel is shoring its weak mobile software developer base, says Turley, a principal analyst at Silicon Insider. Intel, he says, is throwing money at developers in hopes they will produce software keyed to Intel mobile designs.
He characterizes the third-generation Medfield chips (aka Atom) chips released this year as "in the ballpark," and says "the fourth generation will give ARM a run." But the current generation of Atom CPUs has not gotten much traction in cellphones, and it doesn't even support LTE, the rapidly growing 4G cellular technology.
During an interview with TechCrunch, Sumeet Syal, Intel's director of product marketing, said 4G support is in the pipeline, noting Intel will be "shipping some LTE products later this year and ramping into 2013."
Over the years, anyone who follows the chip world knows that Intel has frequently disparaged the ARM architecture. But recently, that language has softened considerably, says Mercury analyst McCarron. What's more, he's noticed a subtle shift in Intel's positioning. During an analyst call earlier this year, for example, Intel noted that architecture and manufacturing are not necessarily linked.
What does that mean? "I believe that Intel is going to look for a foundry arrangement," which means it could use its fabs to manufacture ARM chips in competition with traditional foundries like TSMC. To be sure, McCarron readily concedes he's reading tea leaves on this one, and Intel has not said anything of the sort publicly.
Still, it's clear that ARM is gaining traction outside of its traditional stronghold in mobile implementations by companies like Samsung (which makes Apple's A5 and A6 ARM chips), Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm. Given the friction between Samsung and Apple, a shift to Intel by Apple is an intriguing possiblility -- even if that means for ARM chips rather than x86 CPUs.
That won't happen unless Intel can deliver the goods, which it can't do right now. The alarming decline of the PC market gives Intel a huge incentive to get its act together, and considering the enormous resources and talent in that company, counting it out of mobile is foolish.
This article, "To survive the PC's decline, Intel just might adopt ARM," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.