Report: Intel to subsidize Atom-based tablets

— 1:44 PM on April 14, 2011

At long last, the iPad is starting to get some serious competition. Rival devices from big-name manufacturers are hitting the market or due out in the next couple of months, and most of them have ARM-based hardware lurking under the hood. Slate-style tablets based on Intel's Atom CPUs remain few and far between, however.

Current Atom flavors may not be a great fit for tablets, but Intel showed off a new Oak Trail version of the chip at IDF earlier this week. The company is promising 35 "tablet and hybrid" designs based on different operating systems, and it looks like Honeycomb could be a big part of that push. DigiTimes is reporting that Intel has been negotiating with Google for six months, and that a new "PRC Plus" plan will combine Atom CPUs with Android 3.0. Atom purportedly offers performance benefits over ARM-based designs, although its integrated graphics component may not be able to keep up with the 3D horsepower offered by system-on-chip designs optimized for gaming.

Atom has long been lauded for its x86 compatibility—a feature that allows it to run Windows and associated applications. Now, Intel appears poised to move in the opposite direction. Going with Android is expected to save tablet makers money on Windows licensing fees, and Intel is reportedly willing to kick in a $10 subsidy for tablets that run its CPUs. According to DigiTimes, the cash is meant to lure "first-tier notebook vendors" into the Atom fold.

If DigiTimes' sources are correct, we could see a lot more Atom-powered slates running Android this holiday season. It will be interesting to see whether they can match the price of ARM-powered alternatives while offering competitive performance and battery life.

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