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Intel's Atom is on a collision course with Core—and everybody loses

Mark Hachman | June 5, 2013
Here's the question that's keeping Intel up at night: If the latest.

Pessimists would say that any success in tablets means that Intel will sell fewer, higher-margin Core chips. Optimists will respond by noting that there's no real proof that buyers favor tablets over notebooks, and that some consumers will buy both—or even favor an Intel-powered Windows tablet if the performance is high enough. And analysts like Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64 note that the "Haswell" Core parts should eventually be offered in power envelopes as low as 6 watts, muddying the water further.

And there's one more possibility, too: If Windows RT has failed and Microsoft tosses in the towel, it will still want a low-power chip to power the cheaper version of the Surface. And what could be a better option than Bay Trail? (While sources close to Intel say that's a likely possibility, my source has remained mum on the matter.)

Could Atom be crippled?
Last week, the real question on the lips of Intel watchers was simple: Would Intel "cripple" the Bay Trail chip? Doing do would be relatively easy. Intel could artificially limit the clock speed or graphics performance of the chip, creating an artificial separation between the Core and Atom families.

It's not clear if Intel plans to go this route, although it appears that it might be leaning that way. Company executives seem to be hoping that rebranding Bay Trail solves the problem.

A new family of cheap, low-power, high-performance convertible tablets could be just the thing the "Wintel" partnership of Intel and Microsoft needs for the holidays. Let's just hope that Intel cares more about giving customers the shiny new toys we've been asking for, even if it might mean coal in the stockings of its investors.


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