Intel to Slash Energy Use by Chips

Power Consumption to Drop 41%; Goal Is Thinner Laptops, Longer Battery Life.

Intel Corp.  INTC +2.81% expects to slash the energy consumption of its flagship chip line by 41%, the Silicon Valley company’s latest move to make mobile computers thinner and operate longer on a battery charge.

A Dell XPS Duo 12 Ultrabook, which employs Intel’s chip architecture.

The company, at an annual developer conference that kicks off Sept. 11 in San Francisco, plans to provide some of the first details about a more power-efficient line of microprocessors arriving next year. Intel’s announcements come as demand has slowed noticeably for conventional laptops and as a new category called Ultrabooks so far have failed to gain much traction.

Intel supplies processors for more than 80% of the world’s computers but long has struggled to move its technology into smartphones and tablets. Those products are typically powered by chip designs licensed by ARM HoldingsARM.LN +1.19% PLC, in large part because of their lower power consumption.

The chip maker, while targeting those products with a low-end line called Atom, also is improving its mainstream PC chips to help blur the lines between the categories. Intel at the event plans to demonstrate new thin and light laptops that convert into tablets, which it calls “Ultrabook convertibles,” as well as systems with features such as gesture, voice and facial recognition.

Intel says the fourth generation of its widely used Core line, code-named Haswell, will have greater performance, more sophisticated graphics and stronger security capabilities. But the biggest change is in power consumption, with the new chips drawing 10 watts versus 17 watts for comparable existing chips.

“Basically it means we can make devices even thinner, even lighter and with an even higher battery life while still giving a full PC experience,” said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel’s PC client group, in an interview. “Once and for all, you will feel comfortable walking out of your house and not carrying your power brick.”

The company, following feedback by customers such as Apple Inc., AAPL +0.89%  announced in May 2011 that it was redrawing its chip road map to reduce power consumption more quickly. At that time, the company put its long-term goal at 15 watts, a target exceeded by Haswell.

Besides a more sophisticated design, Haswell benefits from a novel manufacturing process that uses a transistor design that first was used to make the third line of Core chips. Intel expects to produce small batches of the third-generation chips, which also draw 10 watts and will hit the market in the first half of 2013, Mr. Skaugen said.

Haswell is expected later in the year, though Mr. Skaugen declined to specify a precise date or specific performance details. He did say Intel originally thought Haswell would draw about 17 watts. “But what we’ve been able to do is have a better design and better manufacturing results than we thought,” he said.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Intel needs to get power consumption down to around four watts for tablets that have no cooling fans, like Apple’s  AAPL +0.89% hit iPad. But Haswell-powered products can use less-obtrusive fans and be considerably thinner than existing Ultrabooks.

“It’s going to be a killer part for convertibles and a killer part for notebooks,” Mr. Moorhead said.

Even with improved features and performance, the computer market faces an uncertain future. Global PC shipments were flat in the second quarter from a year ago, according to research company Gartner, hurt by the weak economy and consumers shifting spending to tablets and smartphones.

Ultrabooks, a brand created by Intel for thin laptops with a range of new features, have remained at higher price levels than other portable PCs and have sold slowly. “People like the form factor, but when it comes down to if they’re going to put down the dough for it, they’re hesitating,” said Roger Kay of tech research firm Endpoint Technologies.

Mr. Skaugen said the number of Ultrabooks being developed is exceeding Intel’s expectations, and the devices should gain more traction with buyers when Microsoft Corp.’s  MSFT +3.05% new Windows 8 operating system and touch capabilities are available. He added that pricing will continue to decline but acknowledged that models with touch screens will command higher pricing, with a likely premium of about $100.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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