updated 12:00 pm EDT, Mon August 2, 2010
PC firms make Atom tablets to avoid Intel wrath
An apparent scoop from the PC industry hints that most computer builders are actively avoiding pushes by Intel to develop tablets based on Atom chips. Intel's Oak Trail should improve performance and battery life, but most are focusing on the better battery life and touchscreen UI of ARM processors and the Android OS. Those who do make Atom tablets only plan to ship small amounts to placate Intel and Microsoft and prevent either from retaliating by cutting off supply.
Intel is asking companies to show Atom-based tablets at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this September, according to DigiTimes. However, those pledging themselves are showing "engineering samples" that won't necessarily lead to production. Many are waiting to see if there will be demand.
Such behavior wouldn't be uncommon based on prior leaks. Intel and Microsoft are believed to have pushed ASUS and MSI into showing Intel- and Windows-based tablets while either marginalizing or hiding their real ARM-plus-Android plans. ASUS may already be dropping Windows Embedded and would have just one Eee Pad using both Intel and Windows.
Although Oak Trail is expected to be much more viable, Intel's traditional role in making notebook and desktop chips has been considered a liability in the tablet category. Atom still uses significantly more power, generates more heat and often costs more per chip -- often $25 or more -- but isn't necessarily faster for most purposes. Intel's integrated graphics are also often considered slower than the hardware attached to ARM, such as the PowerVR SGX 535 in the Apple iPad or NVIDIA's Tegra 250, and needs assists like Broadcom's Crystal HD accelerator just to smoothly decode some HD video. What few Windows tablets exist have fared poorly, as Apple's 3.27 million tablets in its latest quarter more than doubled the entire estimated 1.25 million Windows tablets for all of 2010.
Intel wouldn't confirm or deny any rumors, but when asked it insisted it saw "positive momentum" in the adoption of Atom for tablets.