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Could Intel’s Broadwell Chip Win in Tablets?

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There has been quite a lot of focus on Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC  ) low-power Atom line as the company's main driver into tablets. Not only are the Atoms full system-on-chip products with a lot of specialized, mobile-focused IP blocks (such as a dedicated image signal processor and, in the future, connectivity and cellular), but they're typically designed with cost in mind. While these products will likely constitute the majority of Intel's tablet volume, it's tough to ignore Intel's upcoming chip, known as Broadwell-ULX, for convertibles/expensive tablets.

Haswell-ULX was close, but not quite
Interestingly enough, Intel launched a chip known as Haswell-ULX. This chip was intended for fanless tablets/convertibles and was sold under the Core i3/i5/i7 "Y" series brand. These chips sported a thermal design power "TDP" of 11.5W and a scenario design power "SDP" of 6W. While this was low power enough to end up in 11-inch tablets with a fan or aggressive 13-inch designs without a fan, this was still a ways from being close enough to go into "standard" 7-10-inch class tablets.

Source: Intel

The good news is that these chips did find their way into devices like the Sony Vaio Tap 11 which, while not fanless, did offer pretty good battery life and performance in a fairly light form factor (although it was by no means perfect). However, the chip to really watch is the next generation part known as Broadwell-ULX.

Broadwell-ULX looks much more suitable
At the Intel Developer Forum, Intel gave a public demonstration of its next generation Broadwell platform for 2-in-1's and Ultrabooks.

Source: Anandtech

While the immediate change visible in this picture (Broadwell chips on the left, Haswell chips on the right) is that the die size of the processor improves substantially, the not-so-obvious change is the extreme reduction in thermals and power consumption.

Indeed, according to CPU-World, the lowest-power Broadwell parts will sport a TDP of 4.5 watts (this is a high-end smartphone/tablet chip class) and an SDP of just 2.8 watts. This suggests that Intel is seeing a pretty dramatic improvement in power consumption along with the significant die-size reduction (in no small part due to the move to Intel's next generation 14-nanometer manufacturing process).

This could be very interesting
A rough estimate of the die size of the Broadwell CPU suggests that it's about an 80mm^2 die. This is for two very high performance CPU cores, fast I/O, and what is likely to be a pretty hefty integrated graphics for this class of product. If Intel can actually get this into tablets/convertibles, then it could not only command a pretty significant performance lead over the rest of its peers, but it could do so with very favorable economics. If Intel can actually fetch PC chip prices and offer PC chip performance in this small of a die size, then its margin structure should be quite nice.

AMD could struggle further
If Intel is selling small die size, high performance parts into Ultrabooks and high end tablets, then it is likely that Intel's 14-nanometer Atom parts (which will be branded Celeron/Pentium for the low end of the PC market) will be even smaller and cheaper to make. Since AMD (NASDAQ: AMD  ) may end up using either TSMC's or Global Foundries' 28-nanometer processes likely throughout 2014, it could end up selling larger dies with lower performance/features into the low-end PC market.

Now, AMD bulls argue that AMD can differentiate on graphics prowess, but the problem is that while AMD has been cutting research and development investments, Intel has grown its R&D investments rather substantially.

Source: YCharts

Does it really stand to reason that Intel hasn't beefed up its graphics capabilities, particularly given its process lead? Does it also stand to reason that AMD can continue to advance while its PC market share continues to decline and its share here dwindles? The strongest argument, of course, is that AMD is still a major player in discrete graphics and that this will be enough to fund future graphics IP R&D. This may ultimately be true, but if Intel combines leadership architecture and leadership manufacturing, then AMD may find its position worsen competitively and, with respect to PC chip ASPs and cost structure, economically over time due to sheer physics. 

Foolish bottom line
Intel's 14-nanometer PC chip efforts should be particularly interesting, especially from a platform cost/economic standpoint. Broadwell should be low power enough to make 2-in-1 tablet/PC convertibles viable and sleek. Whether the OEMs actually put out designs that can really do this next-generation platform justice is another point entirely. 

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 9:13 AM, keeperoftheq wrote:

    The tablet processor market is expected to grow 23 percent in 2014 and Intel is poised to make a run courtesy of its Bay Trail chips, according to IHS Technology. The problem: Intel will have to battle Samsung and Qualcomm as well as a bevy of Chinese commodity chip makers.

    But it's the low end of the tablet market that's worrisome, according to IHS. Rockchip, Allwinner and Amlogic---three Chinese chipmakers supplying processors for tablets as low as $50---are key players in the entry level tablet market. How does Intel compete with that pricing? For good measure, you could include MediaTek, a Taiwan smartphone processor provider, as an Intel threat.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 9:31 AM, keeperoftheq wrote:

    Intel has lost $2.5 billion for 2013 in the mobile market.

    In fact, Intel's mobiles losses have doubled each year for three years in a trot.

    In 2014 it's not going to get any better, as Intel is subsidizing the purchase by OEMs of 40 million Bay Trail tablet chips. That will cost $20 per chip or $800 million in total. It's even possible that these figures will be higher, since Intel is believed to have an internal target of 60 million tablets. Therefore you should reckon on Intel losing at least $3.5 billion on mobile in 2014.

    in 2014, mobile will be subtracting over 20% of Intel's operating profits. That's huge for any company, but especially one which has seen flat top line growth for three years and is expected to continue that trend for a fourth year.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 9:46 AM, rustianowski wrote:

    Hmm another garbage article about how intel is going to invade into all these new markets. Samsung and Qualcomm won;t let that happen. I find it funny that even in your other articles you try and find a way to take shots at AMD.

    Just counting the days until the people on SA and Fool get tired of allowing you to spew your Intel and Nvidia propaganda with little or no facts in the articles.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 10:31 AM, KenLuskin wrote:

    Does it stand to REASON that you canNOT UNDERSTAND that simply throwing money at a problem does NOT solve it.

    Intel had a LARGE program to produce a better GPU called Larrabe... what happened there?

    IF simply having more money to spend on R & D always won, then start up companies, of which Intel was a long time ago, would NEVER win.

    Your analysis is PATHETIC!

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 10:32 AM, KenLuskin wrote:

    SIGNS of a PARADIGM SHIFT in COMPUTING that are leading to a TIPPING POINT for AMD

    Malcom Gladwell, in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, defines it as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point,” where “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.”

    Think of a Paradigm Shift as a change from one way of thinking to another. It's a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis. It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change.

    CPU domination is ending

    Computing has been dominated by a type of processor called the CPU, or central processing unit. The processing of information is based upon one logical computation after another in a sequence. It is called threaded, much as a needle leads a thread to a logical endpoint, and then a new thread is started.

    But, the real world presents so much information in the form of light rays hitting our eyes, and sounds to our ears, that using a CPU to process this info is extremely inefficient. This type of processing requires numerous computations to be all done simultaneously, rather than sequentially.

    For the purposes of processing real world information, parallel processing was invented. Many CPUs are strung together, and this forms a supercomputer, that can do parallel processing. That means it can simultaneously process a huge amount of information.

    The GPU is BORN

    Finally in the late 1990s, a new processor was invented for massively parallel processing. These processors are called GPUs, for graphical processing unit. The first uses of GPUs were and still are graphical information. The main current use of GPUs outside of accelerating the speed of a supercomputer, is for rendering digital images.

    Instead of a CPU drawing one dot, or pixel at a time on a screen, a GPU creates all the pixels at the same time. Without a GPU, the rendering of digital images is extremely inefficient.

    GPUs have been mainly used to create digital images for video games. A program is created that tells the GPU what to render.

    AAA video gaming is a significantly larger industry than Hollywood. Most of the highest grossing video games cost more to create than the average Hollywood movie. The vast amounts of money spent on the video game industry are the driving force in funding the development of GPUs. It is no coincidence that the 2 leading GPU design companies are the main suppliers of discrete GPU graphic cards for PCs.


    AMD used their 64 bit X86 CPU architecture to create an Accelerated Processing Unit, or APU. The APU is AMD’s way of uniting a CPU with their own proprietary GPU architecture, onto one die or chip. Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia, etc. also have a GPU integrated onto a single chip, which is called an SoC, or system on a chip.

    AMD’s APUs are 64 bit, combined with significantly greater GPU power than Intel has, is the reason that Sony and Microsoft chose them to power their new game consoles. Because the only other major game console maker, Nintendo, is also using AMD Graphics, AMD has total domination of the AAA video game GPU architecture.

    Almost all new AAA video games are optimized for the game consoles, and then ported over for use on a PC. AMD worked closely with Sony and MSFT to create application programing interfaces, or APIs, that would be much more efficient than the API that is currently used on PCs. The APIs on the new Xbox1 and PS4 allows video game developers to send commands directly to the GPU portion of the AMD APU, rather than to be first sent to the CPU. These APIs reduces the need for a super fast CPU, while increasing the overall speed that can programs can be rendered. AMD’s GPU architecture is different from that of Nvidia and Intel. Because all new AAA video games will be optimized for AMD architecture, they will run better on PCs using AMD GPUs.


    The speed of the processors is measured in GigaHertz, or GHz. While the CPU portion of the AMD APUs are running at 2GHz or more, the GPU portion is running at 1 GHz or less. The equivalent of the console APIs was created by AMD for PCs, and is called MANTLE. If a game is NOT designed using the Mantle API, then the commands must first be sent to the CPU, then relayed to the GPU. Therefore, a slightly faster CPU will increase the speed of the game. Because of this situation, many hardcore gamers chose to buy a faster CPU from Intel.

    Now, that ALL new games will be created for the new consoles, most developers will choose to use the Mantle API when they port over for play on a PC, to replicate the experience on the consoles.

    AMD has reported that 20 new games, which is the bulk of the new AAA games this year, will be supporting Mantle.

    One of the most successful AAA game franchises is called Battlefield, and their newest game Battlefield 4, is reported to run 45% faster when using Mantle.

    The MANTLE API is the main reason that AMD has indicated they have more than 50% of the design wins for discrete GPUs in Laptops that will be released this year. Laptops OEMs know that they will be at a competitive disadvantage if they use Nvidia discrete GPUs, after it becomes widely known that new AAA games will run significantly better on AMD GPUs.


    AMD created the HSA foundation to share some of their APU architecture with the rest of the chip industry so as to make it an open standard. AMD’s APU architecture was so compelling that they were able to enlist ARM Holdings, SAMSUNG, QUALCOMM, and TEXAS INSTRUMENTS as founding members of the HSA foundation. The reason that AMD and these companies are supporting a new open standard for chip architecture is so the large operating systems and software developers will also support it. But, AMD is the largest beneficiary of the HSA architecture, which is in the chips powering the MSFT and Sony consoles, but also in their newest PC chip called KAVERI.

    HSA architecture in Kaveri allows Operating systems and programs direct access to the GPU portion, and allows the GPU and CPU to share a common memory. This allows the power of the GPU to be more easily accessed by common programs, and increases the efficiency of the chip, because of a shared memory.

    In general, a GPU can produce 5 times as many Gigaflops as the CPU. So, while not all tasks are suited for the GPU, there are many that are now being handled by the CPU which could be much better processed by the GPU.

    Hardware, such as a microchip, greatly benefits from the amount of software supporting it, which creates an ECOSYSTEM

    The success of Intel is mostly based upon the fact that Microsoft chose to optimize MS DOS/Windows operating system for Intel’s X86 architecture.

    The success of ARM is because Apple and Google created mobile operating systems that support its CPU architecture.

    AMD already has all 3 game console makers using its GPU architecture. Which means all the new AAA games are being optimized for AMD architecture. The creation of the MANTLE API will translate AMD’s console GPU domination over to PC gaming.

    Support for AMD’s HSA foundation architecture by Microsoft and Oracle, is a good sign that other software will also be optimized to support it.


    The new era of computing is based upon computers processing real world inputs, rather than relying upon programs or input from a keyboard. This video December 2013 Embedded Vision Alliance Member Meeting Presentation: "The GPU’s Role

    in Vision Systems," Dr. Jon Peddie, Jon Peddie Research

    is 50 minutes, but it is well worth watching, if you really want to understand what I am trying to convey.

    The new era of computing requires the massive parallel processing power of a supercomputer, but at an affordable price for the average person.

    Because the GPU can process vast amounts of information at 5 times the power of the CPU, it will be increasingly relied upon, rather than CPU.

    Efficient voice processing is mainly done in the cloud because of the massive processing power required. But, since all computers, even smart phones have integrated graphics, other less complicated tasks can be done on the device.

    The AMD powered Xbox1 has powerful sound and vision recognition. The Xbox1 has infrared vision, which means it can see in the dark! The Xbox1 can recognize and differentiate between people based upon their voice, and where they are sitting or standing in a room.


    While Intel is charging $300 for their core i7 chip, AMD is charging MSFT $100 for the APU that powers the Xbox1.

    AMD’s APUs have powerful integrated graphics at an affordable price, which is why they are positioned to dominate in providing processors for the new era in computing.

    The new era in computing is a classic paradigm shift. Cloud computing and increased wireless communication bandwidth are already recognized as the driving forces in this paradigm shift.

    Increased use of the GPU is not yet recognized by most investors as a paradigm shift in computing.

    A huge opportunity exists to invest in AMD, before the trend becomes more apparent, resulting in surging sales and earnings.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 10:34 AM, KenLuskin wrote:

    Jean-Christophe Baratault Nvidia's head of professional graphics, the man behind the success of the Quadro & Tesla line of graphics accelerators joined AMD.

    This is news from October..DID you MISS IT?


    "The places where AMD can really regain some profitability are clearly in the professional graphic business where Nvidia has consistently been making the majority of their profit from. Nvidia also professional graphics than AMD does and this is partially reflected in their earnings. Because, without professional graphics Nvidia is most likely has a significantly greater market share in not a profitable company."

    TRY listening to INDUSTRY INSIDERS, instead of the voices in your head!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 11:41 AM, fearandgreed2005 wrote:


    Your rants always crack me up. I don't actually read the whole thing but I skim through to see how many times you hit the CAPS lock. I did take time to count the six !!!!!! at the end which was a nice touch. Keep them coming.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 11:58 AM, markstomarks wrote:

    Sorry shorts; AMD is not going to struggle. It's earnings were great compared to a year ago and it is going to be a mean, lean, diversified machine and maybe it will buy Intel out before it's over with. I like INTC but it is not going up hundreds of percentage points in stock price like AMD will imo

    Sorry shorts but your subjective news articles won't change the fact that shorts covered in December and more this month so is reaching 30% now and once smart shorts out and most are, dumb one will lose money as always and end up in debt margin calls.

    Never short a stock. Too risky. Been doing stocks far too long to not buy AMD.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 10:13 PM, Scunnerous wrote:

    If Intel's mobile chips are so good why are they giving them away and paying OEMs to use them? As for "upcoming", it's getting tired as an Intel slogan now - I bet you just love that Larrabee chip they promised a couple of years back... oh wait.

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Ashraf Eassa

Ashraf Eassa is a technology specialist with The Motley Fool. He writes mostly about technology stocks, but is especially interested in anything related to chips -- the semiconductor kind, that is. Follow him on Twitter:

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