2014 will be a year of tremendous change for both Intel and AMD. Both companies are responding to rapidly shifting market dynamics as the computing market continues its greatest product transition since the PC debuted nearly forty years ago. The two CPU manufacturers are attacking this shift from different directions and with different product strategies; we’ll start with Intel first.
Intel goes for tablets, 2-in-1s
For 2014, Intel is focusing on what it calls 2-in-1s — systems with both docks and tablet components that snap together or pull apart. That might seem like a gimmick, but the way in which these designs are presented to the mass market reflects a fundamental change of thinking. In the past, 2-in-1 systems have been tablets first and foremost with overpriced docks that offer minimum functionality, yet cost $ 100 or more for a USB port and a keyboard. This has changed. Modern x86 2-in-1s integrate the dock as standard and don’t slap on an enormous price for doing so.
When Microsoft launched Windows 8 in late 2012, ARM tablets were supposed to take the low end with Windows RT, while x86 tablets based on Clover Trail occupied the $ 500 to $ 800 space, and Ivy Bridge-based tablets took the $ 800-and-up market. This failed rather impressively. ARM-based Windows RT tablets didn’t establish a buffer for Intel’s Clover Trail; they failed to sell. The Clover Trail-equipped systems, meanwhile, offered terrible performance compared to existing laptops at the same price points.
Now, that’s changing. Intel has begun aggressively backing Bay Trail and Haswell-based systems across multiple operating systems and at price points that compete directly against ARM-powered Android tablets. Intel isn’t just focusing on Windows, either — we’ve already seen Haswell-based Chromebooks, and we’ll see more support for Android tablets arriving in 2014.
The change has been driven by the realization that Atom cannot continue to be treated as a threat to Intel’s Core business. While Haswell made impressive power consumption gains, Intel still needs a chip that can sell into fanless systems and that serves as a lower-end, lower-cost buffer for its most expensive parts. Strong competition from ARM means that Chipzilla no longer has the luxury of creating mediocre-performing hardware year after year and proclaiming it a winning strategy.
2014 is shaping up to be the year that Bay Trail transforms Intel’s x86 business in both servers, mobility, and tablets. The only way to pull off such a shift, however, is for Intel to preserve higher margins at the high end by offering an even better chip.
The Broadwell family
Next year, Intel will offer multiple Broadwell product families, including a rumored Broadwell-U (Ultrabooks) and Broadwell-Y (tablets). The tablet chips will reportedly target fanless operation, and offer a TDP of 4.5W and an SDP of 2.8W. As for how effectively this will compete with chips from ARM, it’s better to focus on the “fanless operation” data than the TDP figures.
Pushing Core-derived chips all the way into fanless chassis is a major achievement. One of the problems with Microsoft’s Surface family, for example, is that the Intel-derived parts are slightly thicker and noisier due to the need for a cooling fan. If Intel can offer these improvements without the corresponding increase in weight that we’ve had to put up with until now, then Broadwell could catch on with professional customers who don’t want to skimp on performance, weight, or battery life.
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