System Builders Anticipate Intel's Atom Configurable Processors

Intel is preparing configurable Atom E600C series processors for the first quarter of next year, a move that has provoked some interest among its partners.

The Atom E665CT, E645CT, E665C, and E645C, processors formerly known as Stellarton, are scheduled to be available within 60 days, and the E625CT and E625C are scheduled for release in the first quarter of next year. But although Intel says the Atom E600C series processors will target customers looking to create custom-made CPU designs, system builders have different expectations for the processor once it launches.

Intel says the E600C Atom processor will allow customers to reduce costs by making design changes without having to replace their hardware. The E600C Atom processor will also allow OEMs to offer various standard and user-defined I/O interfaces, as well as connectivity options, memory interfaces, and process acceleration, according to Intel.

Some system builders believe a configurable processor will give them additional control and flexibility, allowing them to create original solutions.

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"Anytime a manufacturer comes out with a product that gives the channel flexibility in design, we will always be excited, appreciative and will look to capitalize," said Andrew Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder. "This introduction is the polar opposite of companies that come out with a new product but limit its sale to only the largest companies via draconian and anti-competitive licensing restrictions."

In addition to system builders, ISVs could also benefit from the ability to configure the same solutions differently, said one system builder, who requested anonymity. "Demand remains quite strong for low-cost solutions including low-power, low-cost IPCs, OEM appliances made by various ISVs, and home computing solutions," he said.

However, both resellers and ISVs can only expand their businesses with configurable Atom processors with these solutions if Intel and other companies are willing to make a long-term commitment to offering such products.

"It’s good to see Intel launching more processor solutions, giving both channel resellers and end customers more products to choose from. It would be even better if these configurable Atom processors are available in the embedded channel for three to five years, so that more ISVs and industrial computing solution providers can adopt them into their product offerings, providing a series of low-power and cost-effective computing solutions that are available to the end customers for several years," said the source.

Next: Atom E600C Series Draws Attention

Although demand for configurable Atom is real, some system builders see it as a product that will make it easier for manufacturers to simplify issues of inventory and costs.

"I think the idea of what Intel has come up with is great, but it's more beneficial to OEMs than to channel partners," said Steve Brown, vice president of sales and business development at Blue Hawk Networks, a Campbell, Calif.-based system builder. "They could use the same motherboards or the same chips in different motherboards, without having to have so many different chips. It's better for the supply chain model. "

Joshua Liberman, president of Net Sciences, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based system builder, says the Atom chip still lacks the power and flexibility to be a mainstream integrator product. "Intel has recently been working overtime to change that situation in various ways, including initial attempts to merge the previously disparate systems integrator and embedded systems ecosystems," he said.

Another perspective suggests that while there is a need for low-cost and low-power solutions, OEMs who benefit directly from the configurable Atom processor will in turn create opportunities for resellers to add value.

"The processors themselves won’t be a channel product because I believe they are surface-mount connections, so the device or the platform product -- like the motherboard -- will be the key," said Kent Tibbils, vice-president of marketing at ASI, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder. "I think this trend of OEMs introducing finished or near finished products will continue. The question is, what can channel VARS add to these products in terms of applications or usage models that will allow them to implement the solution to a specific vertical?"

Part of differentiating one's products and solutions is branding them in a way that brings the customer back -- an issue which both Intel and its partners face equally.

"Intel may face the same challenge as the channel because the 'brand' that gets recognized by the market may become the brand of the device and not the brand of the items in the device," Tibbils said. "The question is, would that lead to Intel losing any of their technology identity, at least in this segment, and would that matter?"