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August 19, 2010

New Intel Atoms, and how Oracle is helping Microsoft

So Intel has added two more processors to its ever growing family of Atom processor products with all its many branches and suggested applications.

The new chips are the single-core Atom D425 and the dual-core Atom D525 both of which run at 1.8GHz, representing a small step up from the existing 1.6GHz D410 and D510. Thermal Design Power remains at 10 and 13 watts, and the stated quantity prices of US$42 and US$63 is also the same as that of the earlier chips (which, however, enjoy "embedded" status). There is one notable difference: the two new chips support DDR3 SODIMM, and Intel is promoting them for home and small business network storage devices.

To put things in perspective, unlike the Atom N270 that made the netbook explosion possible and accounts for tens of millions sold, and unlike its N450 (and N455/N475) successor, the Atom "D" processors are the ones Intel targeted for "nettops," i.e. really inexpensive desktop PCs. From what I can tell, that strategy didn't pan out as there aren't too many desktop PCs that used the D410 or even the dual-core D510. Why? Perhaps desktops and notebooks are so inexpensive these days that consumers see no reason to get a machine with anything less than a "real" Intel chip (i.e. a Core 2 Duo or one of the new Core i3/i5/i7 chips). So one explanation for the new D425/D525 is that Intel is trying to salvage the Atom "D" by giving it DDR3 support, even if it's only for SODIMM, and targeting the chips at network storage systems, whatever exactly that is in real life.

A bit more commentary about the current Atom situation: there are now no fewer than ten versions of the Atom "Z" processor, ranging from the anemic 800MHz Z500 to the considerably more powerful 2.13GHz Z560. On the market side, the vast majority of Atom "Z" processor-based products we're seeing are using the 1.6GHz Z530, which, after all this time, still seems to be deployed pretty much interchangeably with the Atom N270 (there are products that offer both N270 and Z530 versions, and there are some which switched from one to the other and vice versa). In real life, I've never actually seen a product that uses the Z550 or Z560, which is odd as even the Z540 gives the one Z540 product we benchmarked (the Panasonic H1 medical market tablet) a small but noticeable performance edge over the competition).

But what about the new Atom "Moorestown" chips, a next iteration of the "Z" processors that should finally allow Intel to be competitive in the smartphone and such market? Well, apart from their announcement in May of 2010, we haven't heard another thing whereas ARM et al get all the publicity.

So it's hard to figure out what to make of Intel's Atom efforts to-date. On the one hand, there are the millions and millions of netbooks sold, but while everyone loved the low, low prices of netbooks, few were ever dazzled by netbook performance, especially in the graphics area. With the iPad showing what all can be done with a nominally much slower chip (the 1GHz A4), and netbooks getting ever closer to low-end notebooks, it's hard to see where that's headed.

Anyway, so what about Android? It's interesting to see what difference a week can make, and in this case the difference is the lawsuit Oracle threw at Google over Android. The suit is arcane and I am not even going to try to present details (it has to do with Oracle now owning SUN, which owns Java, and Android is supposedly using part of Java in a way Oracle does not approve of), but the mere fact that one 800-pound gorilla sues another 800-pound gorilla over a platform that up to that suit had almost unprecedented momentum is reason for concern. I mean, if you're a developer, you'd probably stop work and watch while Godzilla and Mothra duke it out. And while you're taking a breather, you may have time to cool off a bit over Android and realize that for now at least it's really little more than a smartphone OS, and that's it's already awfully fragmented. And also that businesses may find it difficult to trust things that come out of the current implementation of the Android App store.

This may all blow over and the two may come to an agreement, but let's realize that Oracle is in an entirely different class than SCO who a few years ago tried to claim exclusive ownership of all things UNIX and Linux. It's hard to see everyone all of a sudden stopping to make Android phones, but if this escalates, you'll see a lot of the companies that announced Android-based "iPad killers" delay their plans.

So who may be laughing all the way to the bank? Microsoft. Nothing could please Microsoft more than seeing Android derailed. Microsoft's own mobile plans are a mess at this point, at least as far as outsiders are concerned. There may at some point again be some sort of cohesive Microsoft mobile strategy and attractive product lineup, but there isn't one now. So the more time Microsoft has to communicate a clear plan and show some real products, the more likely it is to get back into the mobile game.

And HP has a dog in the race as well. HP is already the mightiest computer company in the world, and its immediate fate is not affected by what happens to Android. However, HP is also the company that fumbled away the iPAQ brand and today has essentially no presence in the mobile/smartphone market. But they bought Palm and all of Palm's cool IP, and so if there ever was a time to make a strong push for WebOS, it's now.

We'll see what happens, both with the Atoms and with Android. Who needs reality TV shows with all this stuff going on?!

Posted by conradb212 at August 19, 2010 04:58 PM