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4/11/2011
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Intel Oak Trail Chip Invades Tablet Market

More than 35 tablets will hit the streets in May with the latest low-power Atom processor from Intel.

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Intel said more than 35 Atom-powered tablets from a variety of computer manufacturers will be released this year, as the chipmaker launches its biggest technology push yet into a market where its presence is nearly nonexistent.

Intel announced Monday at its Developer Forum in Beijing that the Atom-based tablet platform, formerly codenamed Oak Trail, would be in tablets and hybrid devices from Evolve III, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Motion Computing, Razer, and Viliv. The portable computers would be released starting in May and through 2011.

The new platform is Intel's best technology to date for the tablet market, which has been growing quickly since Apple jumpstarted sales with the release of the iPad in April 2010. The power-sipping Intel platform, which is based on a Z670 Atom, makes it possible for tablet makers to produce devices that provide up to "all-day" battery life, according to the chipmaker.

Until Oak Trail, Intel has not had low-power technology small enough to compete with processors based on the designs of ARM Holdings, which were in 99% of tablets, including the iPad, that shipped last year, according to IDC. ARM is projected to lose only a few points this year, as Intel struggles for a role in the market.

Intel has said that it is committed to the tablet market and is taking a long-term strategy of slowly whittling away at ARM. "I view this as being a marathon, not a sprint," Paul Otellini, president and chief executive of Intel, said at a technology conference in San Francisco late last year. With billions of dollars in the bank, Intel is seen as having the resources to compete, despite its miniscule position in the market.

The Z670 Atom supports tablets running Google Android, Microsoft Windows, and MeeGo, a Linux-based operating system developed jointly by Intel and Nokia. To reduce the size of the processor by 60% over previous generations, Intel has packed integrated graphics and the memory controller onto the chip die.

To reduce power, Intel has added technology that ratchets down power consumption when the processor is inactive. In addition, the company said its integrated high-definition video decode engine provides "smooth" 1080p video playback at a fraction of the power consumption of previous Atom processors.

Whether Oak Trail places Intel on the right track remains to be seen. None of the computers makers in Monday's announcement are leaders in the tablet market today. Apple accounts for more than 80% of the market and is expected to hold a 47% share by 2015, according to Gartner. Tablets running Google Android are expected to be the cause of Apple's decline, and are likely to give Intel its best chance of winning share against ARM. Apple designs its own processor for the iPad, and Microsoft Windows, which runs on Intel chips, is not expected to be a top five player in the tablet market in 2015.

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