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25 March 2013, 09:07

Processor Whispers: Of East and West

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by Andreas Stiller

In Santa Clara, the tension is mounting: who will follow in the footsteps of Intel CEO Otellini? There are interesting candidates from everywhere, including Europe. At the same time, the global PC market is suffering a greater decline than expected – Intel will have to adapt.

Last November, Paul Otellini announced that he was going to resign from his position in mid-May. He wished for someone from inside Intel, but the board is apparently also looking for candidates outside of the corporation. Reportedly, they enlisted the headhunter agency Spencer Stuart, which specialises in such management positions, in February. It's hardly surprising that the name of Intel's former chief technology officer, the eloquent Pat Gelsinger, who unexpectedly left Intel for EMC2 in 2009, has been thrown into the ring again. But the current boss of the EMC2 subsidiary VMware has already clarified that he is not available: "I'm happy in my role at VMware and hope to be doing it for many years to come."

Another often-mentioned potential candidate from outside Intel is Ex-Motorola boss Sanjay Jha, who contributed to the profitable sale of the mobile branch to Google. In contrast, the CEO of ST-Ericsson, Didier Lamouche, probably won't be considered due to lack of success, although he would be available by the end of the month. The European joint venture of STMicroelectronics and Ericsson has accumulated a loss of €2.1 billion ($2.7 billion) within the three years of its existence, a sizable €140,000 ($180,000) per employee per year. The former partners are now fed up and have decided to get a divorce. Ericsson is taking over the design, development and marketing of the compact multi-mode modems and STMicroelectronics the other products, in particular the Nova processors A9540 and A9500 (with ARM A9 and Mali 400 graphics), and certain production and testing facilities. The rest is to be closed down, which will probably cost 1600 of 5000 jobs worldwide.

Zoom Warren East has successfully led ARM during the last 12 years. Now he is resigning from the CEO position, and Intel is looking for a new one. Just the man for the job?
Source: ARM
But what about Warren East, the successful, charismatic ARM CEO with the gift of the gab? The Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering is only 51 years old and has announced his retirement as CEO for the first of July. His designated successor, Simon Segars, currently president of ARM Holding Plc, ARM Ltd and ARM Inc, is an ARM veteran who joined the British company in 1991, shortly after its foundation – back then as a joint venture of Acorn, Apple and VLSI. The Intel throne was to be taken by a Brit anyway, but Sean Maloney had to pass on the opportunity because of a stroke three years ago. At least he has recovered sufficiently to lead Intel China.

At Intel, COO Brian Krzanich, CFO Stacy Smith and Renée James, general manager of the Software and Services Group, are warming up for the run. Renée James would be the first woman to occupy this position, which would, however, come with a certain disadvantage: unlike Otellini, she would not be able to join the traditional, occult summer get-together in the Bohemian Grove, near San Francisco, where only ultraconservative, elitist men from the areas of politics, business, art and media are welcome, primarily Americans – and German Chancellors like Helmut Schmitd.

iPhone with Atom?

The next Intel CEO might need some mystical abilities to deal with the current situation. The decline of the PC market is much worse than expected. Notably, the largest sales market, China, is exhibiting significant weaknesses and IDC's market analysts had to downgrade their worldwide forecasts for the first quarter of 2013 by two percentage points to 7.7% less sales. Intel will have to open up much more and increasingly offer its extremely expensive factories as chip forges to other companies. Apple is generally considered to be the most important partner in this context, in its role as a contractor for ARM SoCs and also as a potential client for the next Atom generation. In any case, there are growing signs that Intel will be asked to take on a part of the production of the A7 processor, rumours speak of 10%.

Then again, other sources speculate that Apple will make the switch to Atom for its iPhone 6. As a countermeasure to the much-hyped Samsung Galaxy S4, Apple has to come up with something fancy in terms of smartphones but the current Atoms seem poorly suited to that task. The next Atom generation, Silvermont, with a new out-of-order architecture, might have the required potential. However, apparently the Valleyview SoCs with up to four Silvermont cores and HD 4000 graphics are not likely to be ready before the start of 2014, which is when the Bay Trail-T platform with 3 watts TDP for smartphones is supposed to be released. First details about Valleyview chips had found their way to in mid-February, but have since disappeared again – Google Cache is your friend ...

In the second half of 2012, the IDC projects a slight upswing, namely when Intel starts to pour more Haswell processors into the market. The USB 3.0 bug in the Lynx Point chipsets, a problem that Intel has not vehemently denied, might delay this upswing though. The processor is still supposed to be released on time, it is said, but initially only in small numbers.

The reviewers at Tom's Hardware have already managed to get their hands on a prototype of the desktop version Core i7-4770K, Dutch online shops have started offering it (under the product code CM8064601464206) at €331 euros ($430) with an estimated delivery date within one to two weeks. As expected, the performance increase of the CPU in comparison to a Core i7-3770K with the same clock speed, 3.5GHz, is modest: from 7% to 13%. Still, thanks to AVX2, in some instances, Sandra's multimedia benchmark shows a gain of 80%. The HD 4600 graphics are 20% to 50% faster – with the games Hitman and Dirt – than the HD 4000 of Ivy Bridge, but they are no match for AMD's A10-5800K.

It remains questionable, at least, whether IDC's forecast of a small 0.9% increase in the portable PCs for 2013 will hold up though. Even tablets are not selling like hot cakes any more, even though IDC projects an average growth of 11% per year up to 2017. The market researchers place Windows RT as a poor second, with a 2.7% market share in 2017, to Windows 8, and whatever follows it, which has a 7.4% projected share. That is at least respectable against Android's 46% share and iOS's 43.5%, but for Linux, apart from Android, there is nothing significant in sight for the tablet market.



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