Intel finally takes the covers off its next-gen "Broadwell" chips. Will they spur the long-awaited PC market bounce-back?
Intel on Friday finally launched its Core M processors, the first in its delayed family of fifth-generation Core, or "Broadwell," chips. Company execs teased Core M earlier this year, and have spent the last several months hyping the form factor innovations these chips will enable -- namely, unprecedentedly thin and light devices that still pack enough power for real PC productivity. Intel hopes that, by helping manufacturers produce PCs in new shapes and sizes, it can regain ground lost over the last few years, when many consumers and businesses chose iPads with ARM processors instead of Windows PCs with Intel chips.
"Don't take it for granted that it's preordained the PC will decline," Tom Garrison, VP and GM of Intel's commercial PC business, told InformationWeek in a recent interview. He said new device categories will change the way people work, adding, "We're pushing more dramatic innovations, not just simple, evolutionary ones. Completely new form factors that will be fun and amazing, and that will make employees more productive."
Time will tell -- but among the few models announced so far that will use Broadwell chips, several arguably push Windows tablets to a new design standard. Upcoming models from Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and others will boast beautiful, pixel-rich screens and attachable keyboards stable enough for clamshell-style lap use. They won't need internal fans to keep the processor cool, and many of them will be less than 9 mm thick.
The ultra-thin Asus Transfomer Book T300 Chi, which will hit the market in coming months, was the first Core M device revealed.
The 2-in-1 use case hasn't been as transformative as Intel and Microsoft hoped back when Windows 8 launched in fall 2012. Nevertheless, the upcoming devices, as well as the OS they'll run, are much more refined than the relatively clunky first-generation hybrids, such as the original Surface Pro. Dell execs argued this week that slow 2-in-1 adoption will soon take off.
"All of my peers know that they have to be on a modern OS with touch applications and multiple devices within three or four years," said Dell Commercial Client Solutions VP and GM Kirk Schell at the launch of his company's first Core M product, a sleek Latitude 2-in-1.
But others aren't yet persuaded. "Fanless designs and extraordinary battery life are good things, but they're incremental," Forrester analyst David Johnson told InformationWeek last month. "It keeps things fresh and renewed, but it's not a revolutionary change that's going to spark a wholesale resurgence."
With Intel Developer Forum starting Tuesday in San Francisco, the chipmaker likely has more tricks up its sleeve. Last week it only provided info on three variants of its Core M chips and barely acknowledged the more powerful quad-core Broadwell families, which are expected next year and will presumably end up in higher-end devices such as Apple's MacBook Pro.
The dual-core Core M chips draw as little as 4.5 watts. The new silicon achieves its power efficiency in part by intelligently fluctuating its clock speed based on the task at hand. For simple tablet tasks, one Core M model's clock speed runs as low as 800 MHz, but, for more demanding laptop applications, some of the chips can zoom up to 2.6 GHz.
Broadwell-generation processors are manufactured using a 14-nm fabrication process, which is shrunk down from Haswell's 22-nm technology. Thanks to the ability to fit even more transistors in even less space, Core M should deliver significantly better graphics performance and about two hours more battery life compared to previous-gen chips, according to Intel.
Intel's Broadwell chips are the first to be manufactured using a new 14-nm fabrication process.
Intel execs have said Core M devices will hit the market for as little as $699, but most of the devices announced so far are significantly more expensive. When it becomes available later this fall, Lenovo's 11.6-inch ThinkPad Helix 2 will start at $999, for example, and Dell's Latitude 13 7000 Series 2-in-1
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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