July 17, 2013, 9:20 PM — Upcoming Atom chips from Intel will appear in tablets priced as low as US$150, the company's CEO said Wednesday, vowing that Intel will not get caught flat footed again by "the next big thing."
Intel's low-power Atom chips are vital to its plans to recover ground in the mobile PC market, where sales of traditional laptops are falling and Intel has largely ceded the tablet space to rivals like Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm.
Speaking on his first quarterly earnings call for Intel on Wednesday, new CEO Brian Krzanich acknowledged Intel's missteps and said it can't afford to be caught off guard again.
"We've not always lived up to the standard we've set for ourselves," Krzanich said, admitting that Intel was "slow to respond" to the tablet market. There will always be "another big thing," he said, and Intel must be constantly "scanning" for it.
In the meantime, it's betting on two mobile versions of Atom to help it recover lost ground. One is Bay Trail, which will appear in touch-screen hybrid and tablet PCs in the second half of this year, at price points Intel hasn't been able to reach before, according to Krzanich .
Bay Trail will be offered in tablets priced at "$199 and below," Krzanich said. "Some you'll see even lower -- $150, and below that, as we go through the holiday season," he said. It wasn't clear if the cheapest tablets will ship in North America and Europe, however, or only in developing markets like China.
The other important Atom chip for mobile is Merryfield, designed to give Intel a bigger foothold in the smartphone market. Merryfield will ship by the end of the year, Krzanich said -- sooner than an Intel executive suggested back at the Computex trade show in June, though an Intel spokeswoman said Wednesday there has been no change in plans.
The need for chips that consume less power means that Intel's Atom processors, originally developed for netbooks, are an increasingly vital part of its business. The upcoming Atom chips are based on its new Silvermont core, which can run both Windows and Android OSes. There's even an Atom processor for servers, designed to compete with low-power Arm-based servers like those being developed by Advanced Micro Devices.
Intel will start to move Atom more rapidly to its newest manufacturing processes, and treat it as an equal to its more traditional Core architecture, used in PCs and servers, Krzanich said. The newer manufacturing processes produce faster transistors that use less power.