Intel Clover Trail Will Support Linux After All - InformationWeek

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Intel Clover Trail Will Support Linux After All

Intel reverses position, says future versions of Atom chips will support Linux and Android.

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Intel has clarified that Linux does indeed play a role in the chipmaker's plans for its forthcoming Clover Trail line of Atom processors. "The current version of Clover Trail supports Windows 8 tablets," spokeswoman Kathryn Gill wrote in an email, "[but] Intel has plans for another version of this platform directed at Linux/Android."

The statement reverses a claim made during last week's Intel Developers Conference (IDF), where representatives from the Silicon Valley-based giant asserted that the new chips would be exclusive to Windows 8. Those comments ostensibly confirmed earlier reports that active Clover Trail efforts did not include porting Google's popular OS. Though Gill could not comment on platform specifics--"stay tuned," she said--the revised road map makes clear that the next Atom generation isn't about excluding Android as much as prioritizing Microsoft's much-hyped new offering.

The Clover Trail system-on-a-chip (SoC) is similar to the Medfield platform with which Intel has slowly been establishing a presence in the ARM-dominated mobile processor market. Like the current chip, Clover Trail uses a 32-nm architecture--but the upcoming version jumps from one core to two and includes more powerful graphics processing.

[ They're here, but does anyone care? See Nokia Windows Phone 8 Devices Arrive With Thud. ]

Just as crucially, Clover Trail also promises improved battery life that could allow Windows 8 tablets to match the low power consumption of their ARM-based rivals. At least 20 Clover Trail-fueled devices are slated to hit the market soon after Microsoft begins shipping the new OS at the end of October.

Because Medfield devices currently rely on Android, eyebrows raised when Intel said the new SoC would support only Windows products. With the company declining to explain its strategy, speculation ranged from the current version of Linux being ill-equipped for the chip's power-management functions to possible contractual agreements with Microsoft. With the revelation that multiple Clover Trail versions are planned, however, Intel's approach now makes perfect sense, according to Gartner analyst Sergis Mushell.

"No two SoCs are the same," he said in an interview. "It's very important for the OS to be fully integrated and optimized for each chip." He said that the form factor revolution is no longer the dominant factor for businesses and consumers, as many manufacturers now offer appealing shapes and sizes. The key, rather, is "which one is going to perform better?" It consequently makes sense to focus on one OS at a time, and to add support for others later, said Mushell.

Mushell noted "it could be a business move rather than a technology move," but that "it frankly doesn't matter." Outside of a few parties, such as Apple and Samsung, few tablet makers have achieved true success, he said. "What else is there to have a stake in? Windows is it."

Put another way, Android devices already have a base in the marketplace: ARM. Lacking a clear means of differentiating Intel-based Android products from those already available, it makes sense for Intel to consolidate eggs, at least for now, in the Windows 8 basket. With several different versions of Windows 8 available, a Microsoft-focused attitude could allow Intel to stand out in an emerging market space, rather than to simply add to an established one.

It won't be long before industry watchers can see how Intel's plan shakes out: the Windows 8 app store went live earlier this month, and Microsoft, which waffled last week on whether it would patch a Flash vulnerability prior to shipping the new OS, announced on Monday that it will launch Windows 8 with a New York event on Oct. 25, one day ahead of the general release.

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