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Is Intel Corp. Having Difficulties Ramping Its Cherry Trail Mobile Processor?

By Ashraf Eassa - Jul 9, 2015 at 5:00PM

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Intel's ramp of its Cherry Trail mobile processors seems weaker than expected. What could this mean for Intel, if true?

Earlier this year, Intel (INTC 0.64%) announced a new family of tablet-oriented processors, formerly known as Cherry Trail. These processors offered a solid advancement in graphics performance over the company's prior-generation Bay Trail tablet processors as well as added integration.

Although Intel's top Cherry Trail processor, formally known as the Atom x7-8700, was used in Microsoft's (MSFT 0.53%) Surface 3 tablet/PC hybrid, it doesn't seem as though any other system vendors are using this chip. This is despite an Intel presentation back in February suggesting that multiple systems based on the chip would roll out in the first half of 2015.

Interestingly enough, DigiTimes Research recently published a note claiming that "white-box" tablet vendors (i.e., non-brand names)  will be forced to launch Windows 10 tablets, presumably in late July or early August, using the older Bay Trail-CR processors rather than the newer Cherry Trail chips.

Indeed, DigiTimes Research asserts that Intel's Cherry Trail reference design won't be available until the end of September and that more cost-effective Cherry Trail solutions will follow after that.

Is this a cost structure issue, or is Intel simply not ready?
If this report is true, then I see a couple of potential reasons for the Cherry Trail delay. The first may simply be that Intel is actually behind in getting its Cherry Trail-based reference designs ready to go, which means the white-box vendors, which rely on chip vendors to do much of the heavy lifting with respect to the system designs, are stuck selling the older Bay Trail designs with Windows 10 installed.

The second might be that Intel's cost structure with respect to Cherry Trail might not be where it needs to be in order to be able to hit the price points that the system vendors need. Cherry Trail is built on Intel's 14-nanometer manufacturing process, which Intel has been trying to improve the manufacturing yields on.

In contrast, Bay Trail is built on Intel's 22-nanometer technology, which the company has said is the company's "highest yielding" technology in its history, suggesting that it should be very cost-effective at this point. Given that the "white-box" tablet vendors are likely more focused on low-cost solutions, a very cheap Bay Trail might be more attractive than a more-expensive Cherry Trail part.

Is this a big deal for Intel?
As far as large-screen Windows tablets go, Intel essentially has no competition. This means that white-box vendors looking to release Windows 10 devices before Cherry Trail is available to those vendors will need to use whatever Intel platforms are currently available.

In the smaller-screened tablet world (that is, under 8 inches), the situation is a bit different.  Windows 10 for such devices won't include the ability to use the full Windows desktop and should be more-or-less the same on Intel-compatible hardware and ARM Holdings (ARMH)-compatible hardware.

This means that, hypothetically, tablet vendors could build small-screened tablets around newer ARM-compatible hardware from the various vendors. It will be interesting, though, to see if ARM-based small Windows tablets become popular or if Intel will be highly aggressive in trying to maintain its share of the small-screened Windows tablet market.

Interestingly enough, DigiTimes Research said in a note that both brand vendors as well as white-box vendors are focusing primarily on 10-inch 2-in-1 devices. This, if true, is a positive for Intel, given that it has a "lock" on what would seem to be the arguably more attractive portion of the Windows tablet market.

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends 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.

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