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Intel Corporation’s Merrifield Finds a Happy Home in Dell Tablets

Longtime readers of my work know that I have been rather bearish on the prospects for Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC  ) Merrifield processor. While this platform offers strong real world performance in most mobile applications, it fails to tick a number of key check boxes required for commercial success in the cutthroat, spec-heavy Android device market. Furthermore, its lack of integration makes it a hard sell in the low end of the smartphone market. That said, it looks like this part has found a happy home in Dell's refreshes of its Venue 7 and Venue 8 tablets.

Venue 7 and Venue 8 get much-needed makeovers
Dell released the two Intel-based Android tablets in 2013. The Venue 7 was a 7-inch device that sported Intel's Atom Z2560 (also known as Clover Trail+) and a 1280x800 panel. Its more powerful sibling, the Venue 8, came with an Atom Z2580 (which offered the same graphics and processor blocks, just running at higher speeds). These tablets didn't set the world ablaze by shattering performance records, but they were well-made, affordable Android devices.

That said, as Clover Trail+ has become a bit long in the tooth, these Dell tablets are due for an upgrade. The new Venue 7 will get the Atom Z3460, which is a dual-core 1.6 GHz Silvermont-based chip with Imagination Tech's (LSE: IMG  ) PowerVR G6400 graphics processor running at up to 457 MHz. The Venue 8 now sports an Atom Z3480, which is based on the same design, but processor frequency moves up to 2.1 GHz and the graphics frequency hits 533 MHz.

A fantastic value
The 2012 Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  )  Nexus  7 set the bar for value-oriented Android tablets. Lightning struck twice in 2013 with the launch of an updated Nexus 7 with much faster internals (a Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) Snapdragon 600 and a 1920x1200 display) and a sleeker chassis for $229 (16 GB). The new Venue 7 has a lower resolution display, but it should have meaningfully better single-threaded CPU performance, as well as faster graphics. It also comes priced at $170, which means it's a pretty solid deal as far as 7-inch Android tablets go.

The refreshed Venue 8 is distinctly a higher-end product with a 1920x1200 display, the faster variant of Merrifield, and the larger display for $200. This is a pretty substantial upgrade from the original 1280x800 Venue 8, and for $30 more than the Venue 7 customers get a faster processor and a much nicer screen. All in all, these are nice, low-cost designs.

Foolish takeaway
Intel's Merrifield couldn't really hold a candle to Qualcomm's parts in terms of integration and performance for higher-end smartphones and probably doesn't have the right platform cost structure for low-end smartphones. That said, it seems very well suited for fairly inexpensive tablets, particularly if Intel is going to provide contrarevenue to offset any platform bill of materials disadvantages. 

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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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