Intel’s Big Core Is Its Best Offense

With the ARM ecosystem moving quickly to high-performance CPU cores, Intel needs to bring out the big guns to effectively counter the threat.

Jan 9, 2014 at 5:00PM

Apple seemed to buck the trend of trying to cram an obscene number of cores into mobile chips, and instead focused on providing high performance per core in its tablets and smartphones. NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), one of the key merchant chip vendors for tablet apps processors, appears to be set to follow Apple with the 64-bit iteration of its Tegra K1 chip, which will sport two very wide Project Denver cores. Does Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) have what it takes to compete with the next generation of juggernauts?

A tale of two cores
Intel, like its smaller rival AMD, develops two separate lines of cores. First, the "small" core, which goes by the brand Atom. It is optimized for cost and performance per watt for very low-power scenarios. Then there's the "big" core, which is still optimized for performance per watt, but it is larger, offers more performance, and operates in a higher-power envelope at peak performance.

The latest crop of high-end system-on-chip products from the "big three" merchant chip players -- Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and Intel -- have focused on putting four small cores onto a single piece of silicon. While most mobile software really isn't that well-suited to a high number of cores, this is a marketing play, ironically spearheaded by NVIDIA itself back with the Tegra 3.

NVIDIA bucked the trend, Intel needs to respond
With NVIDIA's Tegra K1 64-bit version, the company that drove the industry to quad-core tablets is now circling back to offer a dual-core design consisting of two very powerful cores, codenamed "Project Denver." This is very likely to be the optimal design point for higher-end tablet processors. As a result, the industry players are going to need to adapt to compete.

It's unclear whether Qualcomm will end up doing a big core -- particularly given that its bread and butter is smartphones, while NVIDIA and Intel seem to be more focused on tablets. But it's clear that Intel is going to need to respond to the NVIDIA threat. Given a generous power envelope, NVIDIA's Tegra K1 becomes much more like an Intel Core processor competitor, rather than an Atom competitor, but in a highly integrated system-on-chip.

Advancing "big-core"
Intel's best chance to respond is to start building highly integrated system-on-chip designs. But instead of building these products based on the Atom core, it would instead integrate "big-core," known as a Core microarchitecture. Traditionally, the Core platforms have either been two separate chips -- system-on-chip and PCH -- or both the system-on-chip and the PCH on the same package.

If the ARM ecosystem continues to move toward big cores, Intel needs to be positioned to fight back. Fortunately, Intel has plenty of experience building very efficient high-performance cores. In fact, even the current-generation Haswell is finding its way into large tablets with pretty modest cooling. The next-generation Broadwell should be good enough to go into larger, fanless tablets.

The Broadwell that goes into these convertibles and "2-in-1s" is still not as highly integrated as a traditional mobile chip. It also doesn't have all of the features -- namely an image signal processor -- that a traditional chip would have. In time -- probably with the next-generation Sky Lake -- both Atom and Core should both come in highly integrated system-on-chips that are interchangeable, with only performance/cost differentiating them.

Foolish bottom line
Intel is lucky to have both small-core and big-core development going on. Once the company completes the transition to a full system-on-chip methodology, which CEO Brian Krzanich believes will happen within the next 6-12 months, Intel will be able to more deftly counter the threats from the more traditional ARM vendors. Given its manufacturing lead and cost-structure advantages, Intel could finally have the right designs hit the market in time to be truly competitive -- rather than a step behind.

Looking for a big winner in tech?
Opportunities to get wealthy from a single investment don't come around often, but they do exist, and our chief technology officer believes he's found one. In this free report, Jeremy Phillips shares the single company that he believes could transform not only your portfolio, but your entire life. To learn the identity of this stock for free and see why Jeremy is putting more than $100,000 of his own money into it, all you have to do is click here now.

 

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel and Nvidia. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 9:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers