Fast Company

Intel and Qualcomm Introduce New Processors, Including Intel's "World's Thinnest" Netbook Platform

Canoe Lake laptop

The Computex trade show in Taiwan is the venue of choice for new processor announcements from Intel and Qualcomm. Intel's includes a ridiculously thin netbook platform, and Qualcomm's announces the company as the smartphone chipmaker to beat.

Intel announced a few interesting things today, chief among them the bucolically named Oak Trail and Canoe Lake processor lines. Seems like Intel's higher-ups were out at summer camp when thinking of these names. Oak Trail is essentially a Windows-enabled version of Pine Trail, which was in its Moorestown line. Confusing, right?

Moorestown is a chipset announced way back in 2007 that was aimed at the UMPC, a device somewhere in between a smartphone and tablet (think 5-inch screens with Windows CE) that never really took off in the States. But Moorestown is still a low-energy, relatively solid performing small form chipset that's idea for tablets. Pine Trail was limited in that it didn't support many different OSes, but Oak Trail names Windows 7, Android, and the Linux distro Meego as supported. Moorestown could conceivably be a competitor to Qualcomm's Snapdragon, Nvidia's Tegra, and Apple's A4 mobile processors.

Canoe Lake is a much more interesting beast. Intel showed off a dual-core "innovation platform" today at Computex, apparently a sort of reference design (pictured above). Canoe Lake is insanely thin--Intel claims it's the world's thinnest netbook, at 14mm (barely thicker than an iPhone). Unfortunately, it's basically just a super-thin dual-core Atom, which means you won't be seeing much improvement in performance. It may be slightly faster, but this is still a very low-performance chipset: for example, you'll still need a video decoder from Broadcom or Nvidia just to handle 1080p video.

Intel did not announce release dates for either Oak Trail or Canoe Lake.

Qualcomm's announcement firmly places the company at the forefront of smartphone internals. Qualcomm's Snapdragon chip, currently a single-core 1GHz version, powers the most impressive smartphone hardware on the market, including HTC's Nexus One, Droid Incredible, and Evo 4G. The next generation Snapdragon was announced at Computex today, and it looks like we're moving to dual-core chips up to 1.2GHz in speed. They're still low-power chips, but now they'll be able to handle more tasks, including 1080p video (and, presumably, new-for-mobile software like Adobe Flash). No release date was announced for this third-gen Snapdragon.

So how are these new chipsets going to fight for your dollar? If netbooks continue to sell, the Atom, including the Canoe Lake design, will also sell. But if, as many have predicted, tablets begin to usurp the low-cost computing market, Atom's going to have a problem. Even Canoe Lake is too volt-hungry to be of much use to smartphones and tablets. Moorestown is interesting, if it means full versions of Windows on teeny devices like smartbooks. But it may not get much use--smartbooks like Lenovo's buzzworthy SkyLight opt for Qualcomm's Snapdragon instead.

The new Snapdragons are likely to be found in the next versions of Android, Palm, and Microsoft Windows 7 phones--Snapdragon's performance is impressive and Qualcomm looks to continue that trend with the new dual-core chips.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one--you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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