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Intel, ARM To Challenge One Another's Strengths

Synnex is looking to develop new relationships with carriers and apps developers as tablet computing takes hold.

Along with dozens of product launches and consumer technology news, CES 2011 brought news that the leading traditional PC chipmaker and the leading mobile device chipmaker are each looking to erode the other's lead.

Microsoft's decision to support ARM technology in the next version of Windows and Intel's move to embrace Android together show the balance of power in both markets is shifting.

Android 3.0 has already been shown on tablets equipped with ARM's Cortex architecture, including Motorola's new Xoom tablet, but Intel will offer support for the mobile OS as well. But an Intel representative told CRN that Intel's Atom platform for sleek netbooks and tablets, code-named "Oak Trail," will allow OEMs to choose among operating systems, including Windows, MeeGo. and Google Android 3.0., a tablet-optimized operating system code-named Honeycomb.

Intel has long targeted the tablet space. Oak Trail is already found in tablets running Windows 7, such as Samsung Electronics' Sliding PC 7 Series. In addition, Nokia is expected this year to launch Atom-based devices running the MeeGo open-source platform which Intel developed with Nokia , while Google's Chrome OS will also run on the Intel architecture.

However, Android is the key to Intel breaking into the tablet space, where ARM-based chips claim over 95 percent market share, according to Gartner. If Intel intends to offer processors running Android 3.0 and undercut ARM's momentum, it will have to act quickly.

ARM's challenge to Intel's long-held supremacy in the microprocessor industry gained some real credibility at CES last week when Microsoft said that the next version of Windows will support system-on-a-chip architecture from ARM, which manufacturers including Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments are currently developing, and proceeded to display a Windows SOC running on ARM's architecture.

"This is really about enabling a new class of hardware, new silicon partners for Windows and bringing the widest possible range of form factors to market," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in his CES opening keynote. "This is an important step for Microsoft because customers expect the full range of Windows functions in any device."

Meanwhile, Nvidia confirmed rumors that it's working on a new ARM-based Nvidia CPU for desktops and servers, code-named "Project Denver." "This is one of the most strategic and important announcements ever made at Nvidia," Nvidia President and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said at CES. "I think this is a game changer."

Next: Intel's Sandy Bridge Debuts

Intel didn't exactly have an uneventful week either, officially unveiling its new line of Sandy Bridge processors. But as impressive as Sandy Bridge was, the new platform addresses video and graphics capability on traditional form factors such as notebooks rather than mobile embedded devices.

Intel's second-generation Core processor line, Sandy Bridge represents a significant leap in integrated graphics performance, And Intel's Core i7 2600K and Core i5 2500K include an integrated high-res graphics processing unit and video compression, as well as access to system clock settings.

However, Hans Mosesmann, an analyst with Raymond James & Associates, said in a report last week that Intel did not have the best week it could have hoped for at CES, despite offering what he called the most powerful CPUs to come to market in decades.

''The issue of course for Intel is that CES 2011 is all about Android, tablets, and smartphones, which the Street tends to not associate with Intel. Oh, and that punch-in-the-gut commentary by Microsoft that its next generation Windows O/S will support ARM processors in addition to x86,’’ he said in the report.

Mosesmann said that Microsoft's Windows ARM announcement was not good news for Intel, even though the x86architecture is expected to offer better performance over ARM's design. However, he said he expects Intel to do well in the mobile space. ’x86 in 2011 will easily sport double-digit performance advantages over ARM solutions running Android, inasmuch as that is the metric of choice," Mosesmann said.

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