ARM CEO Questions Intel's New Atom Chips For Smartphones, Tablets

Intel’s new Atom Z2460 "Medfield" processors, the first ever from the chip giant optimized for use in smartphones and tablets, are slated to hit the market next quarter, but U.K.-based chip licensor ARM Holdings doesn’t appear too nervous about the increased competition.

During an interview with Reuters at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, ARM CEO Warren East admitted that Intel’s new Atom processors will bring a new level of competition to the mobile space. East wasn’t convinced, however, of the Atom’s efficiency.

"It's inevitable Intel will get a few smartphone design wins -- we regard Intel as a serious competitor," East said during the interview. "Are they ever going to be the leaders in power efficiency? No, of course not. But they have a lot more to offer."

The ARM CEO also seemed unconvinced of Intel’s overall mobile architecture for the new Atom line. "They have taken some designs that were never meant for mobile phones and they've literally wrenched those designs and put them into a power-performance space which is roughly good enough for mobile phones," East told Reuters.

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Despite criticism from its competitors, Intel has already announced the adoption of its new Atom processors by two major OEMs. Both Lenovo and Motorola Mobility have plans to introduce Atom-based devices in 2012, the chip maker revealed during its CES keynote address. Motorola will launch a new smartphone running Atom processors this summer, said Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha, while Lenovo’s new K800 Android smartphone also featuring the new processors is slated to launch in China next quarter.

Solution providers have also shown their support of Intel’s entry in the mobile space. While tough competition from ARM seems almost inevitable, the mobile market – or any market, for that matter – simply can’t count Intel out, they said. "If Intel wants to be in that space, they are going to be in that space," said David Stinner, president of US itek Group, a Buffalo, New York-based solution provider.

ARM’s East did express confidence in another late-comer to the mobility market: Microsoft. The software giant has been gearing up to launch its newest OS Windows 8, which will support both Intel’s x86 and ARM low-power architectures for mobile devices. East told Reuters he believes in Microsoft’s ability to compete in the mobile market, even against powerhouses Apple and Google.

"Google's Android is flavor of the month, flavor of the year, and we certainly want to be part of the Google success," East said during the interview. "But there is a space for Microsoft, and we very much want to be a part of that success too."