Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

Summary: We already know that the Wintel duopoly isn't what it used to be. Sure, mainstream business systems and mid- to high-end consumer systems generally run Windows 7 and have "Intel Inside," but a whole lot of the computers you buy at Walmart run just fine with AMD chips.

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We already know that the Wintel duopoly isn't what it used to be. Sure, mainstream business systems and mid- to high-end consumer systems generally run Windows 7 and have "Intel Inside," but a whole lot of the computers you buy at Walmart run just fine with AMD chips. So do volume PCs from Dell and HP, among other major OEMs. And then there's the whole Mac thing, that happily knocked the Win out of Wintel.

But the real story these days isn't PC hardware, Windows vs. Mac, or Intel vs. AMD. It's mobile, mostly in the form of Android vs. iOS, but mostly just mobile in general. How can our handheld devices provide as much of the PC experience as possible, enable whole new experiences, and otherwise keep us connected? But guess what? Neither Intel nor AMD have been leading characters in this story up to this point. ARM-based processors have been eating everything else for lunch. Anand Chandrasekher, Intel's senior vice president and general manager of the Ultra Mobility Group (UMG) resigned because of it.

So the news from Intel that it was working with Google on Atom-powered tablets that would be released with the latest Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablet OS is a big deal for several reasons.

  1. Intel isn't throwing in the towel yet. Atom is an important, if low-margin, brand. It let Intel ride the netbook wave and make inroads in embedded devices. The company can't afford to not get some mileage out of during the tablet revolution.
  2. Google needs big name partners to crush the iPad. So far, Android tablets have all either been too expensive, too crappy, or an Acer Intel can bring some serious OEM muscle to the table and should be able to compete on price, too.
  3. Intel needs to ensure that it's fortunes aren't tied to any one platform or buyer type. Windows, enterprise users, consumers, whatever. Rather, it needs to leverage its massive production capability to be everywhere.
  4. Intel remains a very strong brand. It isn't just big name OEMs that Android needs, but enterprise credibility to make sure it can move past consumer tablets. Intel, if nothing else, has enterprise credibility by the bucket load.

Are Intel chips (or the x86 architecture in general) better than ARM chips for running Android on tablets? Probably not, especially with NVidia's high-performance Tecra systems available. However, more distribution, more choice, and more vendors plays well to the "open" message that Google keeps trying to sell for Android. The same strategy worked very well to grab mobile phone market share from Apple and RIM (although it certainly has had its downfalls). This is a win for Google and a win for Intel as it pushes to stay relevant in a world that doesn't need PCs anymore.

Topics: Laptops, Android, Hardware, Mobility, Processors, Tablets

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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26 comments
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  • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

    "ARM-based processors have been eating eating everything else for lunch."

    "eating" duplicated. Just trying to be helpful.
    bmonsterman
    • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

      @bmonsterman
      fixed. thanks!
      David Grober
    • Tecra chips...

      "with NVidia?s high-performance Tecra systems available"

      Wasn't that a Toshiba brand.

      If you mean, the ARM based SoC, I think they are called Tegra. One's called "Kal-El" but that's another story...
      cosuna
      • Kal-El won't ship in units till 2012.

        @cosuna

        Remember that Tegra 2 units were suposed to be shipping in volume last May and we have yet to see any serious volumes ship. Expect the Tegra 3 to show up about the same time the Apple A6 does.

        But that is another story.
        Bruizer
    • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

      @bmonsterman also, it's Tegra not Tecra.
      iamcjbon@...
  • Well, like Win32, x86 is rather irrelevant for tablets and smart phones.

    So, if x86, is even marginally cheaper, it is a non-starter on tablets and phones. Heck, even if it were the same price, who wants to re-design for a single vendor chip, when you have thriving competition and innovation around Arm system-on-a-chip solutions.
    DonnieBoy
    • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

      @DonnieBoy
      Um, because that single vendor is Intel.
      x I'm tc
    • Well...

      @DonnieBoy ARM is pushing upwards to get clock speed and performance while x86 is pushing downwards to achieve low power consumption and less heat. Eventually they will meet.

      x86 has a larger overall eco-system. More languages, more OSes, more memory (64 bit). More storage options. more connectivity. And the ATOM is definitely heading in the SoC direction. Right now, none of this is an issue for tablets but who knows?

      Plus x86 may not gain share in the mobile world but might steal share in other consumer electronic spaces where the ultimate in low power is not necessary and performance or other eco-system dynamics become more important. If x86 gains other footholds it could surround and squeeze.
      DevGuy_z
      • Actually, the Arm ecosystem is much bigger. There are a lot more Arm chips

        sold every year than x86. Intel has been trying for years to get power consumption down, with no luck. The basic problem is the x86 instruction set adds way too much complexity that is not needed. <br><br>Right now, all of the important OSes for Tablets and Phones run on Arm, and all parties have a lot invested in Arm. Atom would have to be cheaper and use less power to be considered for anything other than a vertical application that requires Win32. Really, x86 is just a big handicap<br><br>Finally, the new ARM chips have a trick to break the 4GB barrier, and this will cover them for years to come. There will be 64bit Arm soon enough.<br><br>And, in about any consumer product, heat and power are important. Atom will not be competitive for the foreseeable future.
        DonnieBoy
    • Likewise, what happens with all the NDK developed apps?

      @DonnieBoy

      The NDK could very quickly start locking Android to Arm except for fringe applications.
      Bruizer
    • Wow...

      @DonnieBoy

      Man... you've got a serious Pavlov thing going on with "Win32".
      Hallowed are the Ori
  • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

    Honestly, I don't care about Atom but the AMD C Series is the setup I would love to see an Android Tablet built on!

    The C50 runs a full desktop OS better than the ATOM and the Graphics are very strong in the APU setup (not top of the line but very good).

    On top of that you could probably deliver a tablet with 4 Gigs of RAM and 32 Gigs on board for $450!
    slickjim
    • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

      I could really care less about having a high power tablet, if I were to get a tablet it would be strictly to read books and the news. For anything serious I still prefer a PC and for gps, music player, and useful apps I prefer my phone.
      kroguej@...
  • Linux runs well on Atom processors

    If my Acer AO is any indication Intel has done a great job with the Atom series of processors.

    Linux runs VERY well on Atom, and Windows runs, well, shall we say less than optimally as been shown to be the case many times over.

    I think there will be plenty of room in the market place for Atom sales along side of ARM based Linux devices.

    There's still plenty of life left in Netbook market growth for the next few years out and Atom will be a a good choice for anyone wanting a bit more than the ARM processor may afford.

    Kudos to Intel.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • I don't think so. Remember, quad-core Arm is coming soon from Nvidia and

      others. That will make Intel virtually a non-starter for anything other than verticals for Windows tablets.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

        @DonnieBoy You and Dietrich your Linux moron

        You do both realize that MS is redesigning windows 8 from the ground for tablets and the Arm architecture right?
        Viper589
      • Now that's odd since Windows 8 is being developed for ARM

        @DonnieBoy

        So they and everyone else is lying, except you two who seem to believe that it won't?
        Will Farrell
    • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate <ul><i>There's still plenty of life left in Netbook market growth for the next few years</i></ul>You're the only guy who thinks that. Netbook sales are tanking already: they'll be lower in 2011 than they were in 2010, and it's all downhill from there.
      Robert Hahn
  • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

    Its Not a big deal, once Windows 8 comes to the market, all the android tablets will vanish. Who wants a $500 thing which cant even do a proper computing task??? iOS will remain as a high end product with 10 to 20 percent market share.
    owlnet
    • RE: Why Android tablets with Atom processors are a big deal

      @owlnet
      If Microsoft moves at windows phone speed then we will see tablet from them in 2020 or 21 or 22, you know, story like the WP7 update :)
      paul2011