Intel Hikes Atom Down the Pine Trail; Leaves Nvidia in the Sticks

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Intel and Nvidia have been in a battle of words—and even some litigation—for some time now. The latest front surrounds Intel’s Atom platform: Intel offers integrated graphics with its low-power netbook-driving CPU, and sells those systems to equipment makers cheaper than simple graphics-free versions of the Atom processors. The upshot is that Nvidia’s Ion platform—which pairs up an Nvidia 9400M mobile graphics system with an Atom processor—is far more expensive for computer makers to use…and in the low-margin netbook business, that makes Ion a tough sell.

Now, Intel is further tightening the screws on the Ion platform announcing (PDF) its next-generation Atom platform dubbed Pine Trail. Due later this year, Pine Trail will potentially lower power requirements for Atom-based systems and improve performance…but it also takes the Atom platform from three chips to two by integrating Intel’s graphics controller on the same die as the CPU, along with the platform’s memory controller.

The result is that the Pine Trail platform will be a less expensive platform with lower power requirements—but it will also increase the price gap between Atom and Ion faced by computer makers, placing Ion at an even greater price disadvantage. Arguably, this is bad news for both consumers and the netbook market in general because Nvidia’s Ion platform vastly outperforms Intel’s integrated graphics. Ion will undoubtedly still find a place in small-form-factor desktops, media services, and home theater PCs, but the netbook market is looking increasingly like an Intel-only playground.

Intel’s announcement for Pine Trail comes in the wake of the European Union finding Intel engaged in anticompetitive practices against rival chipmakers like AMD, and Nvidia’s CEO openly describing Intel’s pricing policies as "unfair," although noting his company does not currently plan to being litigation over the matter.

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