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AMD, Intel and Nvidia start 2013 with bold chip statements at CES

Wed Jan 09 2013, 16:46
The Strip in Las Vegas

Although Intel's 7W Ivy Bridge chips are still nowhere near the low power utilisation level required to get into smartphones - Intel has no plans to put Ivy Bridge or Haswell processors into smartphones, instead relying on various incarnations of its Atom chip architectures - it once again shows just how far Intel can push x86 thanks in large part to the design generation lead in manufacturing it holds over some other chip designers and foundries.

Intel's 7W Ivy Bridge chips are useful in more than just thin and light laptops. The burgeoning low-power server market, which is occupied by chip vendors such as Calxeda, will definitely see a 7W Ivy Bridge chip as a threat, because there are no questions about software compatibility in the x86 and AMD64 architectures as there still are with the ARM architecture.

Aside from servers, Intel can also pitch the low power Ivy Bridge chip at all-in-one machines and even high-end 4K resolution internet televisions that require ever increasing processing power. But above all, Intel's 7W Ivy Bridge chip is a statement of intent and one that should have rival chip vendors worried.

Intel also brought out a few Atom chips for smartphones and tablets, including the Atom Z2420, Z2580 and Z2760 with the latter quad-core chip aimed squarely at tablets.

While the firm's Atom Z2420 remains a single core chip that supports Hyperthreading, the Atom Z2580 is the firm's first foray into a dual-core chip, known previously as Clover Trail+, for smartphones.

Given that Intel managed to generate an adequate turn of speed from its single-core Atom chip last year, it's no surprise to hear the firm talk about the Atom Z2580 as a chip for mainstream and high performance smartphones.

Although chip designers such as Nvidia and Samsung have moved on from dual-core chips, Qualcomm previously told The INQUIRER that 95 percent of smartphone users don't need quad-core chips, so the core count of Intel's Atom Z2580 doesn't necessarily mean it is doomed.

Unlike AMD, Intel can sit on its big announcement of 2013, which everyone knows is Haswell. Although the company showed off a reference Haswell ultrabook design, it mostly just reiterated things it said back in September at the Intel Developer Forum.

While Intel kept Haswell under wraps at CES, it did get smartphone vendors to show off Atom based smartphones. Given that Samsung is expected to show off its Galaxy S4 sometime within the next eight weeks, it would take a very brave soul to make any 2013 sales predictions at CES, though it is clear that Intel's brand and the fact that the Android on Atom combination is already more than adequate, is helping the firm get design wins.

Meanwhile, Nvidia showed off Tegra 4, a quad-core chip with a significant graphics boost. The firm did its best to play down the fact that its Tegra 4 has the same CPU core count as its previous generation Tegra 3, and instead it focused on GPU performance, an area where the Tegra 3 was starting to look dated against newer chips from rivals such as Samsung.

Nvidia might have announced the Tegra 4, but what seemed to be missing were smartphones and tablets using the chip. The firm will likely get production wins after the relatively successful Tegra 3, however it will have to do a lot better with devices on the show floor at next month's Mobile World Congress if really wants to show off its latest chip before the circus moves on to the larger ARM vendors.

While Nvidia might have disappointed with the number of hands-on devices available, all the chip vendors mentioned, plus Qualcomm's Jacobs who showed off a Snapdragon 800 series chip, have products that should whet device designers' appetites.

AMD's various announcements show that the firm is pushing ever further into APUs and more specifically thin and light devices such as tablets and laptops.

Intel is bringing down the power consumption of its full Ivy Bridge architecture and expanding its range of Atom chips for smartphones and tablets ahead of Microsoft's Surface Pro launch, and Nvidia has beefed up the graphics capabilities of its Tegra chips just in time for the next generation of smartphones and tablets.

The first week of 2013 has already shown that it will be a very busy year for chip vendors, as short product cycles in smartphones and tablets will require fast iteration on a scale never seen before. µ


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