MWC 2013: Intel isn't giving up on tablets and smartphones

MWC 2013: Intel isn't giving up on tablets and smartphones

Summary: None of Intel's announcements this week at Mobile World Congress will significantly tilt the playing field, but they do show Intel has some momentum.



It’s no secret that Intel has struggled to break into the mobile market. But if there were any doubts as to whether or not the company is in it for the long haul, this week’s announcements should put them to rest. None of these were unexpected, but together the announcements, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, seem designed to show Intel remains serious about getting its chips into everything from inexpensive smartphones to high-end tablets.


The biggest announcement was the Clover Trail+ platform, which consists of three new Atom processors, the 2.0GHz Z2580, 1.6GHz Z2560 and 1.2GHz Z2520.

Intel currently has two mobile platforms:

Medfield for Android smartphones includes the 1.6GHz Atom Z2460 single-core with 400MHz PowerVR SGX 540 graphics. (Intel later added the low-end Z2420 used by Acer, Lava and Safaricom for smartphones in developing markets and the high-end Z2480 used in the Motorola Razr i.)

And the Clover Trail platform, which includes the 1.8GHz Atom Z2760 dual-core with 533MHz PowerVR SGX 545 graphics, is used in Windows 8 tablets from Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, LG and Samsung. All of these processors are manufactured on a 32nm process.

Clover Trail+ takes the Medfield platform, adds a second core and the improved memory controller from Clover Trail, and tops it off with more capable PowerVR SGX 544 dual-core graphics. Intel says it will deliver twice the compute performance and 3x the graphics performance of the Atom Z2640.

Despite the code-name, Clover Trail+ is primarily designed for Android smartphones. The first is the Lenovo IdeaPhone K900, which has a 5.5-inch 1080p display (more than 40 pixels per inch), the Atom Z2580, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, a 13MP camera and Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.

It will be available starting in the second quarter in China, followed by Russia, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines, but it lacks 4G LTE so is unlikely to be sold in the U.S. But Clover Trail+ is likely to be used on other devices such as Android tablets as well. Asus and ZTE will release devices based on it as well.

Clover Trail+ is manufactured on the same 32nm process as Medfield and Clover Trail. But the follow-up, the 22nm Merrifield platform for smartphones, will be available later this year.

For tablets, Intel is planning to ship its first quad-core platform, Bay Trail, in time for the holidays. At Mobile World Congress, Intel said it is working with a number of the original device manufacturers (Compal, ECS, Pegatron, Quanta and Wistron) to make it easier for their customers to get Android- and Windows-based tablets to market quickly.

Intel is also making progress with its cellular modems, which are critical to be competitive in smartphones. The Medfield platform uses the XMM 6260 HSPA+ baseband while Clover Trail+ uses the XMM 6360 with twice the theoretical throughput (HSPA+ 42Mbps). The XMM 7060, a single-mode 4G LTE modem that Intel announced more than two years ago, will be replaced by XMM 7160, the company’s first multi-mode LTE baseband. It will be shipping in the first half of this year, and is designed for smartphones, tablets and Ultrabooks.

Intel has been working on putting these 3G and 4G basebands on the same die with its processor, but it hasn’t said when this will happen. Pretty much everyone is playing catch-up with Qualcomm when it comes to this level of integration.

Finally, Intel has gotten a few more wins for its low-end Atom Z2420 platform, known by the code-name Lexington. At Mobile World Congress, Asus announced the Fonepad, a 7-inch tablet with the Z2420 and 3G voice and data. A wireless operator in Egypt, Etisalat Misr, is also planning to release a smartphone based on the chip.

None of these moves is going to significantly tilt the playing field. Intel dominates the PC and server processor market, while ARM and the long list of chip designers that use its technology, own the mobile market. (To underscore this, ARM announced at the show that it now has seven licenses for its latest big.LITTLE architecture and 75 companies using its Mali graphics in 150 million chips last year.)

But it does show that Intel has some momentum and doesn’t plan on giving up on tablets and smartphones.

The next steps for Intel will be to use its manufacturing advantage to get 22nm Atom chips out the door, while the rest of the industry is still rolling out 32nm and 28nm processors, and to use its LTE technology to secure some more high-profile designs here in the U.S.

Do you think Intel standas a chance in tablets and smartphones? Let us know your thoughts in the Talkback section below.


Topics: Processors, MWC, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • You can't count intel out

    intel may be the outsider in smartphones but Atom is catching up (if not passing) ARM's performance/battery life ratio. We're getting close to being able to run a full PC OS on a phone. Crazy!
    • Crazy? More like cool!

      Most tablets see a geekbench score of 1700, whereas any desktop will do 17000.

      The old Pentium IV from 12 years ago did 1700...

      Assuming geekbench is a reliable source; it's not easy to do accurate cross-platform calculation benchmarks... but there is clearly no way that a tablet can begin to come close to a current desktop (or laptop) in terms of actual power for number crunching needs.
      • Numbers are way off... We're there.

        Looking at processing power of course. 17000 is basically where the enthusiast price tops out. If you pop down pcworld and get a nice machine you'll likely walk out with an 8k geekbench.

        You'd be amazed how much of that power is simple not used by a home/student/office user.

        I have a 4 year old N270 1.6, single 32but, geekbench score of 854, that has 2gb ddr2 and gma 950

        Win 7/8 no problems... Run a game and well.. What do you think? But everything else... Even made it virtualise xp once... Not that speedy shall we say, but it did it
      • Hardware and software

        Amazingly using robustly engineered and streamlined software can do more for the user experience than two generations of newer hardware. Linux runs fine on those old boxes, or on Atom cores. Windows... not so much.
        • what's wrong with windows on atom?

          I've got an htpc built on a year old atom motherboard with both windows 8 and xbmcbuntu and I can't say that one runs better than another from performance stand point. They both feel like they could use a little more cpu but still are perfectly usable. although because xbmc doesn't support netflix I mostly boot to windows.
        • Linux bloat

          Linux distros have been piling on the pork over the years. They are not as fast or lean as it used to be unless you use a very trim distro. I find windows 8 runs better than most modern linux distros.
          • Re: Linux bloat

            Can Windows run off a 700MB live CD?

            Linux can.
          • You could run Windows 98 and ME from a 700MB CD,

            and they were/are still more useful than Linux.

          • Re: You could run Windows 98 and ME from a 700MB CD

            No you couldn't.
          • Re: You could run Windows 98 and ME from a 700MB CD No you couldn't.

            Not only win98/ME but I have a version of bootable Win XP on a 512mb USB key with heaps of utililities and diagnostic programs on it.
          • Re: on a 512mb USB key

            It was a CD I was asking about.
          • Re: bootable Win XP

            Oh, and what happens when that Windows XP install sees some new hardware and asks you to insert a floppy with the driver on it?
      • @HypnoToad72

        I must assume you missed the news about somebody recently releasing a tablet with an i5 processor.
  • 40 pixels per inch?

    That's not right, is it? On a 1080p 5.5" display?
    • 400

      1920 x 1080 w/aspect 16:9
      4.79 in. x 2.7 in.
      1920 / 4.79 = 400
      1080 / 2.7 = 400
      • Glad somebody else did the math, too!

        Came to the same conclusion: a missing zero after "40!" Good work,
  • How long do you think

    the market will rely primarily on light, mobile processors whose only advantage is in low power consumption? People will want to do on mobile devices what they used to do on PCs. If there are ways to make PC CPUs more power-effective, I would go for PC CPUs and do more work.
    Jae K Oh
  • Cut nose off to spike face

    I think Intel must be ruing the day they cut their nose off to spike their face when they off-loaded their ARM Division (Strongarm/XScale) to Marvell in 2006. Their mobile strategy has been foundering ever since, and they have only in the last 12 months has some Intel inside phones, and no real tabs to speak of except the Surface Pro types just out.
    • Infant Market

      BTW it's "cut off your nose to spite your face"

      STrongArm was dropped in Intel's lap by Digital Equipment in a law suit settlement.

      StrongArm was a RISC processor using the ARM instruction set. It was not an ARM processor. It intended market was to be a drop in replacement for ARM processors because ARM was not a very powerful CPU and as ARM based products evolved ARM lacked the horsepower to keep up with new features.
      In the 1990's it was common to buy a company (Intel bought DEC's semiconductor unit), strip it down and spin it off.

      I highly doubt Intel is ruing that day.

      Mobile is an infant market. Similar to Apple II and TRS-80 which were then annihilated by IBM.

      It would not surprise me to see MS, Intel, and Nokia becoming market leaders, again. While the pioneer products pave the way for the companies that are taking the time to do the job right.

      I do not see Android holding market share. MS has 30 plus years in OS and Google has about one tenth of that. I cannot believe how many people find Android an acceptable platform.
      • years is not the best measure of success

        Microsoft Google
        IBM Microsoft

        Intel Zilog