For several years now, microprocessor giant Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has been more actively building processor and platform technologies targeted at the very low-end of the personal computer market. These products are based on the company's low-power Atom architectures, rather than its higher-end Core processor architectures.
At the company's 2015 investor meeting, now-former Intel personal computer chief Kirk Skaugen told investors that between 2010 and 2015, Intel gained approximately 10 percentage points of personal computer processor market share.
A lot of that, the executive indicated, was due to Intel's renewed push in the low-end of the market.
Intel now seems to be aiming to release new products for this market on an annual cadence to continue to bring new features and technologies to lower, high-volume personal computer price points. The product line that Intel currently offers for this market is called Apollo Lake. In late 2017, Intel is expected to launch a product for this market called Gemini Lake.
Thanks to Michael Larabel with website Phoronix, we now have some preliminary information about Gemini Lake.
This looks like an "optimization" of Apollo Lake
Gemini Lake is going to be the third low-cost Atom-based personal computer processor family built in Intel's 14-nanometer technology, following Braswell and Apollo Lake.
Braswell included a mildly enhanced version of the Silvermont processor core found inside the prior-generation Bay Trail product -- manufactured in a 22-nanometer technology -- along with a larger, more powerful graphics engine. Apollo Lake brought significant improvements to both the graphics processing engine as well as the main processor relative to Braswell.
Gemini Lake shares much with the prior-generation Apollo Lake, according to Larabel. The fundamental graphics architecture of Apollo Lake, Larabel says, is the same "gen9lp" technology -- that is, low-power Intel ninth-generation graphics -- used in Apollo Lake.
Although the full specifications of the chip haven't been made public, this information probably points to Gemini Lake as an "optimization" of the prior-generation Apollo Lake. What that would mean is that the processor core and graphics architecture will remain largely unchanged, with perhaps some very mild changes elsewhere in the chip.
The main performance improvement is likely to come from Intel's using an updated, higher-performance variant of its 14-nanometer technology, known as 14-nanometer+. This should allow Intel to boost the CPU and graphics frequencies without raising power consumption, delivering better performance.
10-nanometer Atom in late 2018?
It's likely that Gemini Lake will be the last Atom-based personal-computer processor family built in some derivative of Intel's 14-nanometer manufacturing technology. The next part, according to this code from InstLatx64, is known as Mercury Lake and will probably be manufactured in Intel's 10-nanometer technology.
If Intel sticks to an annual product release cadence, then we should expect to see Mercury Lake arrive in the fourth quarter of 2018. Intel will have been in production on 10-nanometer technology for about a year at that point, so one can only hope that the technology will be mature enough, and therefore cost-effective enough, to support high-volume production of a chip design targeted at low-cost personal computers.
The key for Intel is to make sure to not let up on improving product features and performance in this segment of the market; if low-cost computers fall significantly short of premium smartphones in these areas, then potential buyers of these computers might simply decide to move even more of their daily computing tasks to those phones.
That would hurt demand for personal computers and ultimately hurt Intel.