Intel Atom Processor Excluded From FTC Antitrust Settlement
PCI Express Bus requirement relaxed for tablet-bound Atom, code-named Oak Trail and scheduled to ship next year.
The Federal Trade Commission has modified its antitrust deal with Intel to exclude under certain conditions the chipmaker's upcoming Atom processor for the emerging category of tablet computers.
Specifically, the FTC said Intel would not be required to maintain the PCI Express Bus on the Atom processor, code-named Oak Trail, which is scheduled to ship next year. The low-power processor is targeted at tablet-style computers. An increasing number of manufacturers, spurred by the success of Apple's iPad, are expected to release products in the coming months.
The change does not affect the requirement on what the FTC considers Intel's "mainstream" microprocessors, namely the Xeon, Core, Pentium, Celeron and other Atom chips. The PCI Express Bus requirement was added to the original agreement, reached in August, to prevent Intel from making changes that would hurt the performance of graphics processing chips from competitors, particularly Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices.
The FTC, which issued the change Tuesday, said Intel would not have to include the interface in Oak Trail processors shipped on or before June 30, 2013. The exclusion would apply only to chips destined for non-PC products. The commission includes tablets in that category, as well as any product with a diagonal screen less than seven inches.
Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia declined to comment, but an Intel spokesman said the FTC modification came after Intel had asked the commission for guidance after the chipmaker found that customers wanted to use Oak Trail in netbooks as well as tablets.
Under the modification, Oak Trail chips in netbooks will have the PCI Express Bus, but beyond that, "there's no impact," Intel spokesman Chuck Malloy told InformationWeek.
In general, Intel and AMD have a tablet strategy in which the chipmakers will provide the CPU and graphics processor integrated on a single chip.
Oak Trail is destined for tablets, as well as thinner netbook designs than exist today, according to Intel. Specifically, the chipmaker is aiming the processor at devices based on the MeeGo, Windows 7 and Google Android operating systems. MeeGo, a Linux-based OS, stems from a partnership between Intel and Nokia.
The chip is expected to deliver up to a 50% reduction in average power consumption than previous platforms.
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