Intel and Qualcomm step up chip battle

Qualcomm and Intel, respectively the world’s leading mobile phone and PC chipmaker, announced deep incursions into each other’s territory in duelling speeches at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

A range of devices will form the battleground for semiconductor superpowers that are now closer to matching each other on battery life and performance.

Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm’s chief executive, said its latest S4 Snapdragon processor would find its way into laptops before the end of the year.

Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief executive, introduced the first smartphone to feature its Atom chips – a Lenovo device that will go on sale in China in the first half of the year.

The growth of smartphones and tablets as alternatives to the PC is also producing new alliances. Qualcomm’s processors, based on designs of the UK’s Arm, have enjoyed exclusivity in Windows-based smartphones – a relationship that echoes the old “Wintel” PC partnership between Microsoft and Intel.

Intel has established a partnership with Google, adapting its Android operating system to work on Intel’s “x86” designs as well as Arm’s.

Mr Otellini and Sanjay Jha, chief executive of Motorola Mobility, the handset maker being bought by Google, announced a multiyear, multidevice strategic relationship, beginning with Motorola shipping smartphones using Atom processors with Android in the second half of the year.

Lenovo’s K800 smartphone, available in China in the second quarter, will also run Android and use the Atom Z2460 processor, formerly codenamed Medfield.

This is the first system-on-a-chip from Intel to be competitive with chipsets from established mobile phone chipmakers – it marks a dramatic reduction in size and power requirements.

It still lacks the multicore capabilities of smartphone and tablet rivals – both Qualcomm and Nvidia are moving to quadcore chips – but Intel said the chips’ hyperthreading technology still enabled multitasking.

On the sidelines of the show, Intel executives have been demonstrating a prototype smartphone with features such as its camera’s ability to take 15 8Mp pictures a second in a “burst” mode.

They also claim that their work on software means many Android apps will be able to run faster on Intel chips than comparable Arm-based ones.

Qualcomm will take advantage of Microsoft’s decision to bring Arm compatibility to its latest operating system – Windows 8 – when it is launched later this year. Mr Jacobs, who demonstrated a prototype Windows 8 tablet running on a Qualcomm S4 Snapdragon processor, said 20 manufacturers had more than 70 designs in the pipeline for Snapdragon devices that were not phones.

“Your next PC will deliver an always-on, always-connected experience ... something we in the mobile industry know something about,” he said, adding that Qualcomm was talking to PC makers about building thin and light computers with long battery life, based on its chips.

These could challenge the new ultrabook category being pushed by Intel at the show, which has the same features.

Mr Otellini said Intel would raise the bar on tablet experiences when Windows 8 was introduced. Its chips would ensure compatibility with the millions of existing applications and devices, as well as supporting Metro, the operating system’s touch-based interface for tablets that will be offered as an alternative to the standard Windows desktop.

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