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It's never fun to watch the other kids playing when you're not invited to their games yourself. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) wants to get in on the smartphone and tablet computer fun with a new set of Atom processors and supporting chips.
In the press materials, Intel boasts of a "50x reduction in idle power and 20x reduction in audio power" at the platform level, and the new Atom chips should squeeze out two to three times as much Web browsing and video time as the previous version of Intel's mobile chip. The first generation of Intel Atoms is great for netbooks, but the trade-off between more processing horsepower and quicker battery drainage in that product line doesn't lend itself to truly mobile computing platforms like smartphones or tablets.
If Intel's power and performance claims are anywhere near reality, the Atom now ranks right up there with Qualcomm's (Nasdaq: QCOM ) SnapDragon, Marvell Technology Group's (Nasdaq: MRVL ) Armada, NVIDIA's (Nasdaq: NVDA ) Tegra, and the fourth-generation Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN ) OMAP chips. Initial information from Intel indicates the new Atom chip delivers blazing all-around performance, performing admirably in key usage cases like idle power drain and video decoding performance, while staying competitive in other battery consumption tests. That's certainly a start.
But the technology landscape is never easy to map out. Just because Intel has a great mobile hardware platform available now doesn't necessarily mean that handset makers and tablet designers will come a-knocking to build their next amazing products around the Atom. The ARM hardware platform sponsored by ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH ) , which is the underlying technology for all of the current leaders I listed above, is deeply embedded in the mobile computing experience, and every software environment that matters has been heavily optimized for that class of chips.
Intel is fighting from an unfamiliar underdog position here, and we can't call the new Atom a success until a few leading designers of consumer gadgets step forward with fresh Atom-based designs. And they had better blow your mind, lest the Atom sink without a trace.
Intel and others estimate that the market for mobile processors will dwarf the traditional CPU market where Intel is king -- if not now, then certainly by 2015. That's Intel's window to make a splash here and establish a toehold in the market, and the sooner the better. And no, I wouldn't count on help from Mac partner Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , because Apple now rolls its own ARM-based chips.
Will the new Atom become Intel's bread and butter in the next few years or is ARM's stranglehold on the market far too tight? I believe there's a place for Intel, but the comments box below is dying to hear what you think.