According to a report this evening from the Wall Street Journal, in an email sent to employees by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, Intel has announced plans to merge their struggling Mobile division with the PC Division. The newly created Client Computing Group would be led by Kirk Skaugen, who currently heads the PC division for Intel. The change in reporting is announced to commence in the beginning of calendar year 2015.

The Mobile and Communications Group, which currently is responsible for tablet and smartphone platforms as well as RF transceivers, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth will be broken up. The teams which focus on SoC development will join the Client Computing Group, and those which focus on RF technologies will form a new wireless R&D group.

As we reported in Intel’s most recent earnings report, the Mobile and Communications Group had an operating loss of $1.043 billion for Q3 2014. Intel had a goal of putting Atom in to 40 million tablets in 2014, and the plan to do this was to offset the costs of using Bay Trail instead of ARM SoCs, as well as help cover the engineering costs of moving to an Intel platform. While Intel is on track to exceed the original 40 million goal, it has done it at the cost of just over $3 billion to the Mobile and Communications Group bottom line for the nine months ended September 27th.

While this may seem at first glance as a way to move the losses into a profitable division, Intel has not yet decided whether the new divisions will be reflected in their financial reporting structure. So clearly this is not just about the numbers. What this appears to mean is that mobile and desktop will now be given the same priority, and possibly the same access to fabs. In the past, the newest fab nodes have been available for the Core processors first, with the lower margin Atom processors getting access at a later date. The Core processors moved to the Tick-Tock design process where each year a Die shrink (Tick) is alternated with a new microarchitecture (Tock) in 2006, but the Atom processor has just had its first new microarchitecture since 2008 with Silvermont replacing Bonnell. This puts Atom on 22 nm, and a schedule to move to 14 nm in 2015 with Airmont.

On the Core side, the Tick Tock strategy has been almost flawless, with Intel now dominating desktop processor benchmarks and sales. The strategy would likely work well for the mobile sector as well if it had been started several years ago. According to Chuck Malloy, a spokesman for Intel, “The idea is to accelerate the implementation and create some efficiency so that we can move even faster.”

At the same time this may also be a sign that Intel is reevaluating their chip design strategy, and where the line is drawn between Atom and Core. While Silvermont has proven to be no slouch, it is still a mobile focused chip with a narrow pipeline, as opposed to the wider pipeline, higher IPC designs of the Core family. In that sense Core has so far been something of a premium brand for Intel, reserved for higher value (higher margin) devices while Atom has gone into cheaper devices.

If Intel were to shift Core-like high-IPC designs into the Atom family - a distinct possibiltiy now that development for both is under the same roof - that could have a significant impact on Intel’s performance in the mobile market. Apple has already pursued a variant of this strategy to great effect, their Cyclone family of CPUs being very Core-like in design and frequently topping the performance charts in the process. However in the process Apple has thrown some very large (120mm2+) SoCs into their devices, something that helps their performance but would certainly give margin-centric Intel pause for thought.

Overall, although details are light this could signal a big change in the way Intel does business. If mobile gets the same sort of priority as the flagship Core series and the same sort of top-tier architectures, this could be of great benefit to Intel's CPU performance in the mobile space. At the same time, the PC division may also benefit from some of the mobile experience. As we have seen with Core M, Intel has focused a lot on overall package size and thickness. Moving the expertise in that area into the same division as the people responsible for the Core series could have benefits as well.

With this change just coming into effect at the start of 2015, it will not likely have any impact on Skylake or Airmont, however we could see some synergy in the follow up products.

Source: Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, PCWorld

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  • darkich - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    Actually the Core M so far seems to be far worse than the Bay Trail Moorefield, considering the price and process.

    If Intel wants to compete in the ULP space, I think they need to get rid of the desktop legacy arhitecture actually. Shrinking, restraining and restricting the desktop architecture bellow 5W TDP is not the way to go and the Core M so far proves it.
    The fact that comparatively super cheap Apple A8X shows similar performance and far better efficiency on a less advanced process is a major blow to the myth of Intel.
    Reply
  • Drumsticks - Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - link

    I don't think A8X is showing similar performance to Core M, although I admittedly haven't seen a chart. It's an interesting point though, would Anandtech consider trying to do some kind of perf/watt benchmark? It might not be super easy, but would be really good to see. Reply
  • domboy - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    I don't think the Atom CPU is useless... the Asus T100 is a nice little device for example. Sure it's no speed demon, but it can do a lot of useful things just fine. Reply
  • just4U - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    Some degree of separation should be in play with the development of these processor families. It's helped Intel in the past and in some ways its reasonable to assume that it's part of the reason why they have what they do today. Reply
  • danjw - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    This is supposed to help their mobile unit? One of Intel's problems is the lack of a radio on their mobile SOCs. How does splitting the mobile CPU and RF units help with that?

    I am wondering if this is going to be used as an excuse when they bump the ship date again for the Broadwell desktop parts.
    Reply
  • ptmmac - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    I expect this to be a better way to hide how much money their mobile division is losing. Intel needs the next big thing to drive a new era of exponential growth. The loss of Denson scaling has destroyed Intel's ablity to make its own older parts obsolete. Every 4 years a new PC was a requirement before 2004. Now a new PC is a luxury, and Mobile replaces half of the PC's market place with good enough content consumption machines.

    Intel has to get photonics and a new replacement for CMOS up and runing pronto. Then they can afford to eat their own success story. The cannot afford to let someone else destroy the PC.
    Reply
  • coburn_c - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    My bet is they are killing Atom and moving the mobile team over to focus on low power core derivatives. Reply
  • coburn_c - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    To further clarify, they OoO'd the Atom and double the core count and it's still not competitive in performance. The Core is scaling down in power surprisingly well. Makes sense to kill the Atom. Reply
  • azazel1024 - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    It is, but it still isn't competitive with Atom in one area where it really counts for mobile.

    Power draw. Core M is still higher power draw than Bay Trail-T (if not by huge amounts), its performance is not massively better (it IS better) and it deffinitely cannot be made in to a phone chip, which is part of where Intel is trying to go with Atom.

    Now I could possibly see Intel refocusing Atom to be a phone only chip and do derivative Core designs to fill the tablet space from bottom to top, but I don't see them managing to make Core in to a phone chip ever. Laws of scaling, one design can really only do well with a 10x power factor. For Core, that means roughly 10-13w up to 100-130w. I'd semi-argue what Intel is really targeting is 9w-90w with the big iron really being the same architecture scaled out to extra cores. Core M makes some fairly big sacrafices to fit in to 5w, and looking at it, it appears to sacrafice performance per watt to get there. It most deffinitely does not seem to be an ideal design for that low a power consumption.

    What Intel kind of needs is an even better Atom architecture that scales better from 1-10w, which I think is the direction they are moving. It is just going to take them a couple of years to get there. Airmont/Cherry Trail seems to be promising about a 15-30% increase in CPU performance (baring any unannounced major Architecture tweaks) and a 2-4x increase in GPU performance over Bay Trail. That'll GREATLY close the gap with Core M as it stands today. In fact it should blur almost all distinctions as it would likely leave Core M with only a small GPU advantage and possibly even a DISADVANTAGE in highly multithreaded applications, depending on throttling, workloads, etc.

    Likely the next release of Atom, Goldmont/Willow Trail, is going to focus pretty heavily on new architecture for the CPU and might well yield some very large CPU gains.

    That said, IMHO, Bay Trail makes an excellent tablet chip (I have a T100), a good netbook chip and a poor laptop chip (at least Bay Trail-T, but frankly Bay Trail-N/D isn't really that much better performing). Core M seems to make an okay laptop chip, an okay netbook chip and an okay tablet chip. In a couple more years, if Intel can keep iterating and delivering, Atom is likely to continue to make an excellent tablet chip and netbook chip and might even make an okay laptop chip.
    Reply
  • savagemike - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    Is Airmont still supposed to be released this year?

    I think everyone is over-reacting slightly to this management news. This kind of engineering takes time. Sharing management might impact designs on either the mobile or core front, but even if it does it won't show up in selling product for a couple years at least.
    This is probably more an acknowledgement that at a certain point the hardware plateaus and there will be zero difference between the mobile parts and the low end desktop parts. So why have two divisions trying to design/build them? You'll just have one class of chip with the power efficiency to run mobile devices and the power capacity to service anything short of a work station. We're clearly on the doorstep of that era now.
    Reply

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