Intel Launches Atom-Based Oak Trail Platform For Tablets

Intel says it will finally enter the tablet market next month, as the leading chipmaker shipped its first Atom-based Oak Trail processors to manufacturers on Monday.

An Intel spokesperson on Monday told CRN that Oak Trail is shipping to Intel customers now, and that end users can expect to see products on shelves starting in May. Intel’s spokesperson declined to comment about specific vendors or pricing citing Intel’s policy not to offer details regarding its customers’ designs.

However, according to specifications briefly posted on Intel’s Web site last week, Intel’s Atom Z670 includes a single, dual-threaded x86 processing core featuring Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology. The Atom Z670 Oak Trail chip features 512 KB of L2 cache, 1.5 GHz clock speed, and a built-in 32-bit memory controller. The processor reportedly was briefly listed at $75. Intel has said Oak Trail will offer extended battery life, full 1080p HD video support, and a fifty percent reduction in power consumption, as well as improved thermodynamics.

If tablets running Intel’s Oak Trail processors come to market as scheduled, they would be on time for Computex 2011, to be held in Taipei between May 31 and June 4. Intel unveiled its initial plans for single-core Z670 Oak Trail processors last June at Computex 2010. Intel said its Z670 Oak Trail chip was specifically designed for tablets, featuring specialized video decoding hardware and playback of MPEG files in Windows Media Player, as well as a different GPU core from its Atom processors featured in netbooks.

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PC vendors including Lenovo and Motion Computing demonstrated Windows 7-based tablet models running on Intel’s Oak Trail chip platform at CES 2011. Intel also launched its Sandy Bridge integrated graphics processors at the event and, in February, offered plans for its Medfield smartphone processors at Mobile World Congress 2011.

Intel is looking to make up a significant disadvantage to British design firm ARM in the mobile market. Apple’s A5 processor running inside the Apple iPad – which was recently updated with the A5 chip inside the iPad 2 -- is based on ARM’s Cortex architecture and accounted for 83 percent of the tablet market in 2010, according to IDC. The iPad runs on Apple’s iOS platform, which only supports Apple devices and thus leaves an opening for other tablet and chip vendors willing to adopt other operating systems.

However, Intel has struggled to get vendors and carriers to adopt its MeeGo operating system, which Intel jointly developed along with network provider Nokia. However, Nokia in February decided to favor Windows 7 over the MeeGo platform it created with Intel .

Next: The Run-Up To Launching Oak Trail

Adding further to the competition, a number of devices running Google’s Android 3.0 operating system for tablets, code-named Honeycomb, were on display at CES 2011 from manufacturers including Samsung and Motorola. Meanwhile Asus, Toshiba, Dell and others are scheduled to bring their own Honeycomb-based tablets in 2011

Underscoring Intel’s difficulties in the mobile space in general, last month Intel mobility executive Anand Chandrasekher resigned from his position as senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Ultra Mobility Group (UMG), and was replaced by Mike Bell and Dave Whalen, both vice presidents in the Intel Architecture Group. A 24-year Intel veteran, Chandrasekher guided Intel through the development of its low-cost Atom microprocessors and Centrino mobile processors for Wi-Fi-enabled notebooks. Under his leadership, however, Intel struggled to make a similar impact in the tablet and smartphone markets.

Last week, Intel added its Atom Z670 Oak Trail chips to its online list pricing and quickly removed the processor from the list, calling its addition a ’mistake.’