Since 2013, microprocessor giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has been aggressive in building processors based on its Atom architecture that are targeted specifically for the low end of the personal computer market.
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Intel’s Atom-based processors are typically smaller, lower power, and cheaper to produce than their Core brethren, but they also generally offer lower performance in return.
That aggressiveness has allowed Intel to substantially grow its share of the low-end personal computer market -- an area in which it historically had relatively lackluster offerings -- while at the same time keeping its overall gross profit margin profile unscathed.
The next product family that Intel plans to introduce for the low-cost personal computer market is Gemini Lake, which succeeds the current Apollo Lake processor family.
Here are three things to expect from the Gemini Lake chips.
Much better CPU performance
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By design, Atom-based chips aren’t going to be as zippy as the higher-end Core-based products, but until just a few years ago, Atom-based systems offered barely usable performance.
Intel has made reasonable progress in boosting the CPU performance (this impacts just about every use case) of its Atom-based products, but even its currently available Apollo Lake chips deliver lower CPU performance than a high-end Android smartphone.
That’s still not great for Intel, especially as Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) seems serious about enabling those smartphone chip vendors to sell their chips into Windows-based personal computers.
Gemini Lake is expected to feature an enhanced processor core, known as Goldmont Plus, and per FanlessTech (which cites “internal slides”), this new core is expected to contribute to a 31% increase in CPU performance.
That kind of performance won’t set the world ablaze, but it should allow Intel to keep pace with the ARM-based offerings that it’ll need to compete with in this sector.
Similar graphics performance
While Gemini Lake is expected to bring a big jump in CPU performance, FanlessTech (citing those same slides) says that it’ll offer similar graphics performance to the prior-generation Apollo Lake.
That’s a bit disappointing, particularly as improved graphics capabilities could help improve 3D gaming performance. It’s understandable, though: A budget computer buyer is probably more interested in a snappy experience in general tasks like web surfing and email than in running the latest 3D games.
I expect that Intel will deliver a big improvement in graphics capabilities in the company’s next-generation Atom processor family.
Finally, FanlessTech said in a tweet that Gemini Lake will have integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability.
Interestingly, a user on the AnandTech forums posted a slide, which appears to have originated from Intel, illustrating just how this Wi-Fi and Bluetooth integration will work.
In the slide, Intel shows that as far as Wi-Fi goes, only the Media Access Control (MAC) hardware will be integrated into the chip; the baseband modem/filters, as well as the analog components, will remain outside of the chip in a standalone module.
The Bluetooth integration looks tighter, with the slide indicating that the Bluetooth MAC, as well as the baseband modem, will be integrated into the chip. The baseband filters and RF components will remain outside of the chip in a separate module.
Intel says that “moving the MAC to [the] PCH saves power, cost, and size,” which is clearly something that’s important for low-cost personal computers.
Furthermore, that integration will likely encourage PC vendors to eschew third-party Wi-Fi solutions in favor of Intel-based solutions, which should help Intel’s Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip business overall.
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Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.