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Intel's Silvermont Plays Catch Up

Chris Ciaccia | TheStreet.com Technology Reporter
Tuesday, 7 May 2013 | 2:08 PM ET
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Intel is trying its damnedest to compete in the mobile game, that much is clear. Its new Atom 22-nanometer Silvermont chipsets could help give the chip maker a boost, but that's not going to happen anytime soon.

For years, Intel, which designs the -x86 based chip, ignored the mobile computing game, allowing technology from ARM Holdings to win the battle. Chips based on ARM's technology now account for 95 percent of the market, so Intel finds itself way behind the eight ball when it comes to mobile computing.

Devices from Apple, Google, Samsung and others largely use custom ARM-based chips, so a change from proprietary chips to Intel's new Silvermont chips isn't going to happen in 2013, or perhaps even a good chunk of 2014.

The vast majority of the apps and software that run on iPhones, iPads, Galaxy phones and other devices all are built off ARM-based intellectual property, so to change from that technology to Silvermont is an enormous task.

It will take years before Silvermont is firmly entrenched in mobile devices, and by then ARM-based chips from Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm and others will have next-gen chips, so Intel will continue to be stuck in the mud.

RBC Capital Markets Doug Freedman noted that Intel is fighting a perception problem in the marketplace, especially as it pertains to power consumption.

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"We are encouraged by new instructions and technology which enable improved efficiencies, however, we acknowledge that Intel is battling market skepticism in low-power vs. ARM," Freedman penned in a note. He rates Intel "buy" with a $29 price target.

The new Silvermont chipsets offer some exciting new things as it pertains to Intel, including lower power consumption and where Atom chips can be used, across a wide variety of devices from servers to data centers to mobile devices.

The Silvermont family of chips (Bay Trail (mobile), Merrifield (context aware and personal services), Avoton (data center) and Rangeley (networking)) also offer a higher performance than current Atom chips, so that's certainly a step in the right direction.

(Read More: Foxconn Tries to Move Past the iPhone)

Intel has had its missteps when it comes to mobile, first brushing the segment off, then spending years and billions in research and development trying to play catch up to ARM designs.

With Brian Krzanich as its new CEO, that mindset has to change, and products need to come to market much quicker than they have.

Intel's bread and butter, PCs, has even come under attack with the launch of Windows RT, and ARM-based server chips, though Intel still holds a dominant position in PCs and servers.

Mobile devices are increasingly becoming more powerful, especially as companies like Apple and Samsung make their own chips.

These companies aren't going to move to Intel designs unless there's a drastic difference in power performance, Freedman noted. "While we are encouraged by the Atom road map, we believe the market will take a 'wait and see' approach as Intel attempts to establish more serious inroads in ARM-dominated markets."

Intel is increasingly focusing its efforts on mobile devices, as the PC market continues to contract at a faster pace than anyone thought. Silvermont is Intel's best weapon yet, but it's not something that's going to radically change the company's fortunes in the next year or two.

By TheStreet.com's Chris Ciaccia

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