Tag: arm

Intel replays marketing card

Intel-logoBecause Intel has so few products to show at its expensive upcoming Intel Developer Forum in September in San Francisco, it will play its old three card trick and show off new logos and marketing plans instead. Ailing Intel, it seems, has run out of “innovation”.

That’s according to reliable sources within the corporation that told the Eyes that newly formed CEOs need marketing ideas because product ideas are few on the ground.

The source – based in Asia – told the Eyes that it had attempted to convince ex CEO Paul Otellini that the marketing needed changing to a retro kind of thing, but had come up against determined opposition from the then CEO.

But facing ruin because it was slow off the mark with chips for tablets and for smartphones, instead Intel will attempt to bamboozle the world with marketing. The newly born CEO – and the INTC board are  up for it.

The re-branding will re-position Intel as a 21st century company that doesn’t really invent technology any more. Just manufacture it.

Although we don’t have the new logos and that yet, expect a blast of marketing publicity that talks a lot about not very much at all, faced with the opposition. Oh, that’s not AMD, by the way.

Applied Micro Circuits frightens Intel

godApplied Micro Circuits has begun shipping a new kind of low-power server chip that might cause its rival Intel a headache in the data centre business.

Applied Micro Circuits announced it is shipping its new X-Gene “microserver” 64-bit chips, made with ARM designs. X-Gene is being touted as a Server-on-a-Chip which combines 10/40g mixed signal I/O with top-of-class, ARMv8 64-bit cores running at up to 2.4 Ghz, with an enterprise-class memory subsystem.

The company said that it has already made a million dollars from the chips and expects “meaningful” revenue from the chips in the quarters ending in December and March as shipments build.

Chief Executive Officer Paramesh Gopi told analysts on a conference call that there was a backlog for X-Gene, both in the September quarter and December quarter, as well as the March quarter.

Microservers have yet to be meaningfully adopted, but the belief is that data centres can be made more cost effective and energy efficient by using them.

Chipzilla will lose shedloads if the server market moves towards such technology and cannot lose even a few percentage points of market share.

Intel spokesman Bill Calder said that while Intel was not taking the competition lightly, he thought that the much-hyped threat of ARM servers getting any significant market segment share any time soon has been vastly overplayed.

Microservers will probably end up in data centres run by major Internet companies and for use in high-performance computing.

Intel executives in the past have said microserver chips being developed by Applied Micro Circuits, Advanced Micro Devices and other small rivals were unproven and not a serious threat to its server chip business.

In the past couple of years, Intel has launched its own low-power chips, designed with its own architecture, in anticipation of a potential move toward microservers.

Future HP servers will learn from smartphones

HPHere in sunny Barcelona @ the ETSS conference, Mark Potter – HP’s CTO for its Enterprise Group was expounding his company’s vision for how the future will look for file servers.

Basically, the IT industry appears to have woken up to a technology which smartphones have been using for ages – the SoC (System on a Chip). Not revolutionary concept for the fact that Potter suggested that HP would use ARM cores in addition to Intel based processors. Given that Intel and AMD were major sponsors of this show, we’re sure he couldn’t elaborate more. Anyway, Potter was keen to pump up what HP is calling The Machine as a new era in server technology.

HP seems a bit ambivalent in its approach to The Machine because Dr Tom Bradicich, vp for Moonshot Engineering with HP servers suggested that Moonshot was the first step towards The Machine model. Except it isn’t The Machine.

Curiously, HP appears to have announced the Moonshot last month at an event hosted by our old friends – Citrix.

Well, the Moonshot is now a reality and shipping but for some reason Bradicich revealed that initially this product would only be made available through his company’s “US partners”.

Which is a bit strange because most resellers that ChannelEye was speaking to here claimed to have a US presence. So they should all be able to source the product.

Besides SoCs, the other technology which Potter was bigging up was photonics.

We’ve all heard of it before but HP seems to be suggesting that you’ll see products actually utilising photonicsavailable from HP before Q1 2015.

Which will be great because photonics are a key part to HP’s dream of The Machine.

Thanks to photonics, a server won’t have to write information to anywhere – It will simply reside in shared memory.

Sounds impressive but the major advantage to photonics is the energy saving, Potter quoted somebody else as saying that “copper is an energy sucking devil”.

But he’s got a point. Potter revealed that if cloud computing was a country it would be the fifth largest electricity consumer above the UK and just below Japan.

If The Machine really can return such massive energy savings through the use of photonics which HP is suggesting, then the ROI for customers of its channel partners will be significant.

As Potter hinted, a great way of getting enteprises – which have recently been low spenders, to update their data centres.

ARM servers are on the rise

arm_chipThere’s more gloomy news for chip giant Intel.

A report by Digitimes Research estimates that a total of 20,000 units of ARM-based servers ship this year. And while that’s hardly made a dent in Chipzilla’s armour yet, only representing 0.2 percent of that market, that’s set to change.

By 2017 the volume will grow to 1.06 million with a CAGR of 170 percent.

ARM itself thinks that by 2016, chips based on its technology with account for five to 10 percent while that percentage will grow to 10 or 15 points by 2017.

A lot depends, according to Digitimes Research, on support from Microsoft on the Windows Server front.

Google to design its own chips

google-ICThe hegemony of Intel looks to be under further threat after a report that search giant Google is to design its own chips.

That’s according to the Wall Street Journal, which speculates that because it buys more servers than anyone else in the world, it could dictate prices to component makers.

The newspaper says that the chips it may design will be based on ARM technology.

Google has, apparently been recruiting a number of chip designers and it’s certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that it may well have a stab at chip design.

If it does, the question will be which fab company it chooses to create the microprocessors.  Although Intel is attempting to become yet another foundry, many vendors are reluctant to put their fate into the chip giant’s hands.

Intel seems to have lost its way

Sean MaloneyThe news that Intel’s Galileo is on its way just underlines to me how the chip giant has lost its way.

The “open source” computer costs $70, and uses its Quark microprocessor. Intel clearly thinks it will compete against the highly successful Raspberry Pi but clearly it hasn’t got a chance to play catch up.

The launch mirrors Intel’s late attempt to climb on the tablet bandwagon by cutting the price of its Atom microprocessor to compete with ARM and Nvidia based chips.  But it hasn’t got an earthly here, either.  Manufacturers are very chary about using anything with the Intel name associated with the tin. Again, that’s underlined by vendors’ reluctance to be associated with Intel.

Cheap is everything in the tablet market now and even though Intel’s chips might be, er, cheap as chips, the economics of this don’t really make a lot of sense to anyone. Sure, Intel has heaps of capacity but that in itself is part of the problem. State of the art fabs are really expensive these days and the volume game just doesn’t fit Intel’s business model.

In reality, the chip giant really has very little new to say. The new broom in the shape of CEO  Brian Kzanic appears to be attempting the Herculean task of cleaning the Augean Stables not just of the dung but also of a heap of very good people who have let their legs do the walking.

Datacentre business no doubt is still healthy for Chipzilla, but on the other hand independent market research shows that the notebook market is on the wane.  Sure, enterprises will refresh their notebooks but with the arrival of BYOD, there’s a level of ambiguity which must leave Intel more than a little bemused.

In truth, Intel has had zilch to say in the last three years as smartphones and tablets transformed the “traditional” Wintel model.

As part of the antitrust agreement following the demise of DEC, Intel found itself with StrongARM devices. At the time, we asked top executives from the firm why it didn’t just cut the Gordian Knot and produce a highly portable ARM based device?  The answer, of course, was that Intel was on the Centrino notebook gravy train. Sean Maloney, now a non-executive director at Chinese foundry SMIC, realised that the Atom chip might well cannibalise the notebook market but nobody at Intel appeared to have looked further than the next three quarters and see its dominance becoming more and more eroded.

Of course, Intel has oodles of cash in the bank but oodles don’t last forever.  Re-engineering its business model is, for Intel, a far from trivial task. As an Intel watcher for the last 30 years, I will be most interested to see what happens in the next 12 to 18 months.

Cheap tablets start to make their mark

cheap-tabletsEver since Google launched its $199 Nexus 7 last year, tablet makers have been looking for ways to come up with even cheaper devices to undercut Google and other brands who targeted the sub-$200 space. Smaller form factors were popularised by Apple’s iPad mini, too. As a result the tablet underwent a massive transformation over the last 12 to 15 months in what can only be described as a race to the bottom. However, we’re not at the bottom just yet.

Big brands have started rolling out cheaper devices, first hitting the $149 mark and now going towards $99. The white-box gang is already there and cheap tablets are slowly making their presence felt. According to Bloomberg, sales of sub-$149 tablets will account for almost 35 percent of the US market next year, up from 25 percent in 2011.

However, cheap tablets have evolved. The average $199 or $149 tablet two years ago was absolutely horrible, but this is no longer the case. Here are a few examples proving that cheap tablets have come a long way.

The cheap white-box tablet, anno 2011, usually shipped with 512MB of memory, single-core A8 processor and low-res 1024×600 or 1024×768 TN panel. Some even featured outdated resistive touchscreens. However, 1GB of RAM is now the bare minimum, while many cheap tablets already pack 2GB. Practically all cheap tablets now sport IPS panels and it’s even possible to get a WUXGA (2048×1536) tablet for as little as $200, or ~€160 in Euroland. Dual-core A9 or quad-core A7 processors are standard, but there are even some A9 quads available for that sort of money.

Components are getting ridiculously cheap, allowing vendors to add more for less. This is especially true of processors and displays.

Several companies are churning out cheap ARM SoCs and it is estimated that Rockchip can sell a SoC for as little as $5. MediaTek is currently shipping one in five SoCs on the planet and most of them are cheap, A7-based parts. Prices of relatively high-quality IPS displays have tumbled as well and many cost less than $10. Prices or RAM and NAND have gone down as well, but the drop wasn’t as drastic. All in all, Bloomberg reckons the cost of components used in today’s cheap and cheerful tablets is $60, down from $175 in 2011.

It should be noted that cheap tablets, or the companies behind them, don’t get nearly as much press as they should. After all, cheap tablets will make up a third of all tablet shipments next year, but tech sites are focusing on clickbait, pricey high-end models churned out by brands who tend to advertise on the same sites.

It’s all somewhat reminiscent of the vanilla PC boom in the mid eighties, although we don’t believe cheap tablets can replicate the success of cheap PCs three decades ago.

Intel runs out of roadmaps

stapThere was a time, some years ago, when Intel mattered. It doesn’t matter any more at all and it is running out of steam.

Soon, Intel will hold its annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) – it was a must attend event back in the days when the company had many very talented senior executives. Most of them are goners now.  Intel was famous for inventing things and driving the industry by using its considerable clout to create stuff.

Now it creates nothing, nothing at all.  Like many a large corporation, including Microsoft and many another corp too, it started behaving like an ingrowing toenail, believing – against all the evidence – that it would hold its mighty market share forever.

We did warn Intel repeatedly it shouldn’t rest on its laurels.  When it adopted StrongARM, as a result of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) maneuvers, we advised it that it should drastically change its business model and produce some stunning and cheap devices based on that technology.

But no. Like an ignorant bull, it insisted that the world+dog should have notebooks that cost a small fortune.

The last two years has seen its strategy crumble into dust. No one cares about its roadmaps any more. No one gives a flying fart about its process technology. No one has a clue.  It lost some of its most talented individuals – Kicking Pat Gelsinger, Mike Fister full of dollars, Mike Splinter and the rest, and blithely pursued a path which will lead it to Carey Street, if it’s not careful.

As we reported a week or two back, the freshly minted CEO is attempting to introduce a top down page and firing all the spin doctors who, these days, couldn’t spin their way out of a paper bag, nor organise a piss up in a brewery or cheese factory.

Like many an old dinosaur, its tiny brain doesn’t realise that it has been dying from the tail up for several years. It is a shame – we have the utmost respect for any company that has factories – this is no trivial matter. But engineering its way out of this current crisis is, we feel, a fab too far to go.

Intel’s post PC strategy is faltering

Intel-logoEver since Intel got a shiny new CEO, we’ve been hearing talk of an aggressive mobile push, of a more dynamic Intel that will eventually steer clear of trouble and trample the ARM gang with Brian Krzanich at the helm.

This of course will take time, if it is possible to begin with, so Intel’s first order of the day was to talk about mobile rather than do anything about it, and talk it did.

Intel spent much of the last quarter talking about 2-in-1 hybrids, touch enabled Ultrabooks and now it’s outlining its smartphone strategy, complete with LTE. So far it’s been all talk and almost no action.

Earlier this week Intel shed more light on its first LTE chipset, the XMM 7160, which is supposed to launch by the end of the month. It is a multimode chip and currently Intel offers only a single-mode LTE solution, which is obsolete.

Worse, even the XMM 7160 is a discrete solution, it’s not an integrated option like Qualcomm’s LTE. Intel wants the world to think that it’s serious about LTE, but in reality discrete LTE chips are a thing of the past. It’s all about integration now. Intel’s next generation XMM 7260 LTE chipset is set to appear next year, with LTE Advanced support. Intel’s first integrated LTE solution might appear in the first half of 2014. This is very slow indeed and as a result Intel is highly unlikely to score any big phone design wins next year. It can go after second-tier devices, but they’ll probably be scooped up by MediaTek, Qualcomm and other ARM players.

To be blunt, Intel simply won’t do much better on the smartphone front next year. It will gain market share, but we are still talking about low, single digits.

It won’t do much better in other segments, either. It appears to be pinning its hopes on hybrids, which seems very risky at this point. Hybrids, or 2-in-1s, are supposed to combine the portability and practicality of tablets with the productive prowess of proper notebooks. The trouble is that they’re just not there yet. Windows RT is on life support, Windows 8.1 will still be big and bloated. As a result Windows 8.x hybrids will cost a lot more to produce than Android and iOS tablets, margins will be tight and vendors won’t be very happy. The OS itself is another problem. An x86 tablet with legacy support for tons of Windows applications sounds very good, if you’re Dr Who and you can travel back in time to 2009. The market has moved on and legacy support just isn’t what it used to be a few years ago – and it’s losing relevance fast.

The failure of Intel’s Ultrabook push and touch-enabled notebooks is another concern. Ultrabooks were too pricey and they didn’t offer much in the way of new features. Simply slapping a touchscreen on top of them did not address the original shortcomings of the concept, so touchbooks are failing as we speak.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Intel ditched Atom based netbooks in favour of pricier designs. At about the same time it culled CULV to make way for Ultrabooks. Intel wanted more high-margin silicon in the market, but now it’s focusing on Atom once again. The first Atom based hybrids are starting to show up and they are practically what the netbook would have evolved into had Intel not killed it. In the meantime, cheap tablets and Chromebooks ate its lunch, along with cheap ultraportables based on AMD’s low-end APUs.

As for tablets, Intel dropped the ball years ago and now it’s facing a much tougher market, a market it desperately wants to get back into. Intel recently launched a couple of unimpressive education tablets, running Android. Samsung also tapped Intel for the Galaxy Tab 3, which is equally disappointing spec-wise. Intel now says it wants to do more on the Android front, but it is simply too late. Intel’s x86 support is irrelevant in the Android world and most Android tablets are powered by dirt cheap ARM SoCs. High-end Android tablets, which seem like the obvious choice for Intel chips, aren’t selling well – so even if Intel gets back into the game, it doesn’t stand to make much on Android tablets.

It’s only ticket into the Android universe are high-volume devices, like flagship phones. It will not get them anytime soon. Next year’s Android flagships will still be based on ARM chips and unless Intel pulls off a miracle, it won’t get any in 2015, either. Samsung makes its own Exynos chips and doesn’t really need Intel’s Silvermont. Motorola has also cooked up a custom chip based on Qualcomm’s Krait core, which means Google is also pursuing a custom in-house approach. Apple already designs custom ARM cores and this won’t change. And then there’s Qualcomm. And MediaTek, and Nvidia, and LG, and just about everyone else with an ARM licence under their belt.

Asian tablets will win the day

Keep taking the tabletsAs I was having a mango and orange juice round the corner from the somewhat unique hotel I’m staying in here in Old Taipei, I had an invitation from Sascha Pallenberg, I popped round to pay a visit to Mobile Geeks, and it was something of an eye opener.

Sascha, and fellow reporter Nicole Scott, have offices in rather a swanky building on the 11th floor of an office block near the metro. Obviously they are gearing up for next week’s Computex but we had time for a chat about the state of the tablet market.

Sascha showed me two tables – one Chinese one sells for $35, while the other, a well built machine from Ramos, sells for $225.  Both are Android devices and Sascha tells me there are dozens, maybe hundreds of these babies manufactured in China, which obviously has implications for the big boys, the Taiwanese boys and, well, the whole world. Heck, you could bundle a $35 notebook with a carton of cigarettes, I suggested.

Can you obtain these machines in the USA and Europe?  Well, you can certainly get hold of the Ramos machine – check out its site here.  But most of the tablets, Sascha suggested, were destined for the Asian, Indian and African markets, where no one can lash out the amounts of cash Apple and others expect.

The real question for me is how vendors can possibly expect people to pay vast sums of money in the USA and Europe when it’s obviously not hard for the Chinese to master manufacturing and with a bill of materials at a considerably less cost.  Surely it can only be a matter of time before the majors are forced to slash prices to match the Chinese offerings – and then it will be a case of just how they can make such big margins as they do now, in the future.

And with the heady mix of Windows tablets, Android tablets battling it out, where exactly is this going to leave the old guard – Microsoft and Intel?

Chip revenues down

arm_chipRevenues for the global semiconductor market dropped two percent year on year to $295 billion in 2012, IDC’s latest semiconductor application forecast reports.

Consumer spending slumped in the second half of the year which had a significant impact, but this was also combined with a slowing down in industrial and other market segments too. Europe’s economic crisis leaned on the PC market and China, too, was not spending as much as had been hoped. IDC notes the “lackluster” Windows 8 launch did not prove to be the boon for PC sales manufacturers were praying for.

Cheaper Chinese suppliers pressured average selling prices and dragged down overall revenues.

Just 17 companies with revenues of a billion or more, of the 120 that IDC tracks, managed growth of over five percent for 2012. Most saw declining revenues, including the majority in the top ten. Qualcomm, Broadcom, NXP, Nvidia, MediaTek, Apple and Sharp were the few in the 25 largest companies that registered positive growth.

Intel, IDC points out, saw revenues plunge $50 billion for the year, a drop of three percent, attributed mainly to weak PC demand and failing to make significant inroads into the tablet and smartphones market. Samsung saw revenues fall six percent. Texas Instruments , at number four, saw a decline of six percent.

Qualcomm, however, was a winner – ranking third in 2012 and growing revenues 34 percent to reach $13.2 billion. IDC states that this is largely due to Snapdragon and its prevalance in modem technology.

Altogether, the top ten vendors – including Broadcom, Renesas, Hynix, STMicro and Micron, held 52 percent of global semiconductor revenues, seeing a three percent decline compared to the previous year. The top 25 companies overall declined three percent, bringing in revenue of $206 billion.

Semiconductor device types were a mixed bag. Fastest growing were sensors and actuators, but these made up just two percent of overall revenues. ASSPs represented 32 percent of overall revenues and grow four percent thanks to media, graphics, and application processors, as well as RF and mixed signal ASSPs. Optoelectronics made up six percent of the revenues, growing five person on the back of image sensors and LEDs. Microcomponents declined five percent, while memory declined ten percent, holding 17 percent of all industry revenues. Analogue declined by seven percent to account for seven percent of all revenues.

IDC’s semiconductors research manager Michael J Palma said in a statement that the challenge is to “zero in on their key value propositions”.

“Whether that is in modem or connectivity technologies, sensors, mixed-signal processing or power management, there are areas of the market showing strong potential,” Palma said. “However, competing in crowded segments with little differentiation has contributed to the slowdown in semiconductor revenues”.

Intel confirms $200 Android notebooks

Intel-logoIntel is working on $200 notebook designs, powered by cheap chips and Google’s free Android operating system.

Dadi Perlmutter, Intel VP and chief product officer told CNET that $200 notebooks will predominantly be Android products based on Atom chips.

Now the ball is in Microsoft’s court, if Redmond wants to gain a toehold in the ultra cheap notebook market it will have to make its operating systems a bit cheaper.

Perlmutter said the price of Windows 8 gear depends on how Microsoft prices the OS, and it could end up slightly pricier. In addition, Perlmutter pointed out prices of notebooks based on Core processors should go down to $399 to $499.

As netbooks are about to die a quiet death, $200 droidbooks might be the best way to replace them. Upcoming Atom chips are roughly on a par with ARM SoCs in terms of power consumption and performance per watt, so from a technical standpoint Intel should have everything covered.

The big question is software. Android is a good operating system for touch enabled devices, but it has yet to prove itself on more traditional form factors, that is,  notebooks.

AMD to cut reliance on PC chips

AMD, SunnyvaleAMD might be on the verge of its biggest strategic shift in ages, as it starts to embrace ARM processors and more frugal chips. The company hopes to make as much as half of its money from console chips and ultra-low power processors by 2016. That is on top of ARM-based server chips which are already in the works.

At the moment, AMD generates the vast majority of its revenue from x86 processors and GPUs, but this year it is expected to ship millions of custom APUs for gaming consoles. On Tuesday the company launched a range of embedded x86 chips based on the new Jaguar core, but it also hinted at upcoming embedded chips based on ARM designs.

AMD already made it clear that it intends to use upcoming 64-bit ARM cores in its server parts, but the decision to design embedded APUs with ARM cores could have far reaching implications. In technical terms, these chips will have a lot more in common with consumer application processors than server chips. They are also expected to feature the latest generation Radeon graphics. In other words, AMD will develop ARM based SoCs, but it is still unclear whether it will target the consumer market.

Several years ago AMD sold its Imageon mobile graphics division to Qualcomm, and Qualcomm put it to good use, churning out millions of mobile SoCs with Adreno graphics, courtesy of AMD IP. However, AMD insists that it could catch up with relative ease.

Sasa Marinkovic, AMD’s Technology Marketing Lead, told Forbes that chip architecture at the time of the Imageon sale was full of bottlenecks and it has moved along since then.

“We sold some graphics IP, but we didn’t forget how to build it,” he said.

AMD already has some x86 designs capable of hitting sub-5W thermal envelopes required by tablet manufacturers, such as the 4.5W Temash SoC. However, ARM based chips could offer even better power efficiency and end up with sub-3W TDPs.

On the console front things are looking even better. AMD expects sales of custom APUs for the Playstation 4 and next-gen Xbox to account for 20 percent of its revenue by the end of the year. Similar chips based on the Jaguar core are coming to the consumer market as well.

Acer triples tablet shipment target for 2013

acer-logo-ceAlthough Acer is still one of the world’s leading PC makers, it hasn’t had much luck in the tablet market. The same goes for most PC makers, but things could be about to change. Acer has tripled its tablet shipment target for 2013 and unsurprisingly it aims to focus on cheap gear. 

According to Focus Taiwan, Acer’s tablet shipments in the current quarter could reach 65 percent of its total tab shipments in 2012. Back in February Acer said it would ship about 5 million tablets this year, up from 1.8 million units shipped in 2012.

The biggest seller is the Iconia B1, an entry level 7-incher with a price tag of just $150. Acer President Jim Wong pointed out that the Iconia B1 is part of a wider product line and not the only model, which means more cheap Acer tablets are in the works.

“We expect this year’s shipments to grow 3.5 times from last year,” he told a press briefing.

The cheap Iconia B1 is expected to account for 15 to 20 percent of Acer’s tablet shipments this year. The company said it would introduce new models with 8-inch and 10-inch screens by Q3, with prices starting at about $200.

The global tablet market is expected to grow to 240 million units this year, outselling traditional notebooks by more than 30 million units.