Business News/ Industry / Infotech/  Intel betting on new Haswell processor to reverse fortunes

Bangalore: Intel Corp., which is going through the toughest period in its history with a slump in the personal computer (PC) market, is betting on its new fourth-generation Haswell processor to make headway in the market for portable computers and other devices.

The world’s largest chip maker, which has dominated the PC chip market for nearly 25 years, is stepping up efforts to make inroads into tablets and smartphones, a market dominated by British chip designer ARM Holdings Plc.

“It’s not sufficient to lead in traditional areas like CPU (central processing unit) and graphics," Rani N. Borkar, vice-president and general manager of Intel Architecture Development Group, said in an interview. “We need to be the best in emerging capabilities like display, media, imaging and so on. As computing goes mobile, these are the capabilities end users really care about."

Intel’s new chief executive officer (CEO), Brian Krzanich, who earlier served as chief operating officer and took over as CEO from Paul Otellini, told shareholders last week at Intel’s annual meeting that the company will hasten its push into the mobile market.

On Wednesday, Krzanich changed the organizational structure at the company and took direct control of Intel Architecture Group, the business unit that designs chips, according to a regulatory filing issued by Intel.

Haswell, which is an upgrade from the company’s Ivy Bridge line of processors, will be launched in the first week of June.

It comes with a feature that enables the chip to consume less power without sacrificing device performance and also more than doubles battery life, Intel claims.

These will be rolled out for so-called ultrabooks and then for tablets.

“Haswell’s underlying architecture can scale from delivering server-level performance to tablet-level power consumption. In the ultrabook segment, Haswell provides 20 times reduction in idle power over the previous generation," said Borkar, who is based in Oregon, US.

The company, which gets 85% of its revenue from the PC market, also recently launched its Silvermont line of processors to compete in the mobile arena.

Experts tracking the company are optimistic about Haswell’s potential to drive growth at Intel, but remain divided about whether the new line of processors will help it pull ahead in tablets.

“The big issue for Intel is to be able to recapture the momentum in mobility and smaller devices that they have lost to the likes of ARM over the years," said Richard Fichera, vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “As far as Haswell is concerned, I hesitate to say whether it will be a revolutionary breakthrough. The tablets and smartphones market is dominated by operating systems that don’t have any connection with the x86 architecture."

“Haswell by itself is not going to turn them around from followers to leaders. It’s going to be a huge improvement from their previous line of processors though," said Fichera.

The company has been criticized for not making the transition sooner toward tablets and smartphones, markets dominated by rivals markets dominated by Qualcomm Inc. and Samsung Electronic Co. Ltd, which make chip designs from architecture licensed from ARM Holdings.

The mobile chip market is estimated to be worth about $85 billion, according to industry estimates.

“Intel traditionally has always been late to the party. But when they do land up at the party, they end up being the best in it," said Sergis Mushell, principal research analyst, at technology research firm Gartner Inc.

Worldwide shipments of laptop and desktop computers fell 14% in the March quarter, market researcher IDC said. The drop in shipments was the steepest since 1994, when IDC started tracking the data.

The slump in the PC market has largely been an effect of an increasing number of users migrating to tablets and smartphones, forcing companies such as Intel to rethink their strategy and target those markets.

“Intel is in the midst of a huge and critical transformation. No one organization can do it alone, and many pieces have to come together to make us a successful SoC (system-on-chip) company," said Borkar.

SoC is an integrated circuit that integrates all components of a computer or other electronic system into a single chip.

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Updated: 27 May 2013, 01:22 AM IST
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