Chip maker Intel hopes to get into mobile devices in a big way Thursday as the company unveils the 1.8GHz dual-core Atom Z2760, the first chip from Intel's Clover Trail family. The new chip is designed specifically for Windows 8 tablets and hybrid devices as the company tries to compete with ARM-based chips that currently dominate the smartphone and tablet world.
Intel says Clover Trail boasts a number of key updates to its Atom platform: longer battery life; smaller die packaging (allowing for thinner and lighter devices); hardware acceleration for displaying higher-definition images; and 4G LTE network support. The new chip will be officially unveiled during a special Windows 8-themed event in San Francisco Thursday with numerous major PC manufacturers including Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and ZTE (check back later for PCWorld's event coverage).
What Will Battery Life Be Like Under Clover Trail?
The first big claim Intel is making for the 1.8GHz Atom Z2760 is that it can provide up to 10 hours of battery life for local (non-Web based) high-definition video playback, and up to three weeks of standby time. Intel's previous Atom chips were often criticized for offering poor battery life performance, which is one reason why ARM-based chips have been the preferred choice for mobile device manufacturers.
For Clover Trail, Intel has focused on improving power management, but it's too early to tell just how good it will be in the new platform. Nonetheless, if Intel wants to compete in a mobile market where battery life is critical, it will have to nail down power efficiency to have any chance of relevancy.
Clover Trail's Other Features
The new chip will also include NFC support, the ability to support mobile device cameras with a maximum 8-megapixel sensor, and integrated graphics with hardware acceleration support for 1080p video. The Z2760 can also support an internal and external display at the same time, and supports Internet connections over Wi-Fi, 3G, and 4G LTE networks.
Intel is also saying the new Atom chip can allow manufacturers to create devices that are as thin as 0.33 inches and as light as 1.5 pounds. That's a little bit thinner and heavier than what Apple offers with its Wi-fi/Cellular iPad that features a depth of 0.37-inches and a weight around 1.46 pounds.
Intel vs Arm on Windows
For the new Windows 8 ecosystem, there will actually be two flavors of the OS to choose from: Windows 8 and Windows RT. Windows 8 will appear in any device running an x86-based processor. Windows RT, meanwhile, is the OS version for ARM-based tablets that rely on the new touch-friendly Windows 8 UI (formerly known as Metro). Windows RT will still include a traditional desktop interface option, but it will be buried in the OS, and it won't be able to run legacy third-party apps such as Photoshop or browsers like Mozilla Firefox. To alleviate this pain point, Microsoft says Windows RT will offer a free version of Office as well as Internet Explorer for accessing the Web.
As for Windows 8 tablets running on Intel silicon, they'll theoretically offer full compatibility with Windows legacy technology, including current desktop applications, and peripherals such as printers and cameras. These could be handy advantages if you want them, but it's not clear if people are clamoring to use Quicken on a tiny touchscreen, or print directly from their tablets.
Clover Trail Hardware Options
Intel's event will include presentations from major PC manufacturers so we should get more details later. But the company in June said 20 Windows 8 tablets with Clover Trail chips were already in the works. Some tablets and laptop convertibles set to run Clover Trail chips have already been announced including the Hewlett-Packard Envy X2, Samsung Ativ Smart PC, and Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2.
Clover Trail Device Pricing
The key to a successful push into mobile devices will be the cost of Clover Trail-powered Windows 8 laptops and hybrids. Few prices have been announced for upcoming Clover Trail devices, but costs are expected to range anywhere from $700 to $1000 and up. That's definitely more expensive than the $500 price tag of a base model iPad. But Intel-powered tablets should offer more PC-like capabilities than Apple's tablet, and this should appeal to anyone looking to get real work done on a touchscreen device.