For the first time, Intel and its PC maker partners will have a new generation of ARM-based PC and device types to contend with, from a variety of competitors. To respond to this threat, Intel is unleashing a new hardware platform, codenamed “Clover Trail,” that combines many of the benefits of ARM with the compatibility of traditional Intel processors. The result will be a wide range of Intel-based tablets.
Given what’s at stake, I would have offered Intel one bit of advice, however: The firm is using its widely despised Atom brand for this new Clover Trail platform. That is, I think, a mistake: Most consumers equate Atom with bad experiences on poorly performing netbooks. And that is not what Clover Trail—or the Atom processor Z2760, as Intel calls it—is all about.
What this new Atom provides to PC makers is PC and device form factors that can rival the thinness, light weight, and, it is hoped, battery life that consumers can expect from ARM-based systems running Windows RT. (Remember, Windows RT is simply the ARM version of Windows 8.) According to Intel, tablets based on Clover Trail can be 8.5 mm thin and just 1.5 pounds in weight. If those numbers don’t mean much to you, think iPad: Apple’s latest iPad is a comparable 9.4 mm thin and 1.45 pounds in weight.
Like ARM, Clover Trail achieves these numbers by using what’s called a “System on a Chip,” or SoC, design in which what are normally many different chips are combined into a single lightweight and tiny package that, in Intel’s words, does not compromise performance over battery life. Clover Trail offers a dual core design (with four threads) that can achieve over 10 hours of battery life while playing back HD video at full resolution, all in a tiny 32nm process.
And all SoC designs—Intel and ARM-based—gain access to unique Windows 8/RT features like Connected Standby, which isn’t possible on other chipsets. (And Intel says that Clover Trail-based devices will get up to 3 weeks of battery life while on Connected Standby.) These devices can also utilize Secure Boot, which Windows 8 can hook into to protect the OS from rootkits and other malware during the boot process.
Clover Trail also integrates Near Field Communications (NFC), an HD camera (up to 8 megapixels) and optional second camera, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), 3G WWAN, and 4G/LTE WWAN. Clover Trail CPUs can run at speeds of up to 1.8 GHz, include Intel Burst and Hyper-Threading technologies, integrated Intel graphics, support for external HDMI 1.3 video, embedded storage, multiple USB ports, and support for sensors such as GPS, accelerometer/compass, ambient light (ALS), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SARS), proximity, and thermal.
Intel and its partners are also showing off a variety of PCs based on more traditional Core (“Ivy Bridge”) processors. These processors will provide better performance, of course. But they will also include Intel vPro technologies that provide a number of capabilities that should be of interest to enterprises, including remote system access and management and security features such as Enhanced Intel Anti-Theft Technology, Intel Secure Key, Intel OS Guard, Enhanced Intel Identity Protection Technology, and Intel Trusted Execution Technology.
Intel will be launching the Atom processor Z2760 today at a special event in California, and is expected to announce a number of “new, full-featured Intel-based tablets” from Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Samsung, and ZTE. If there are specifics about these PCs at the event, I’ll follow up with whatever information Intel and its partners provide.