SAN JOSE, Calif. – Intel Capital launched a $300 million Ultrabook Fund to bankroll startups working on technologies in line with its new concept for next-generation notebooks. The CPU giant is under pressure from a coming generation of ARM-based mobile systems in the works that will use Microsoft Windows 8.
The $300 million represents additional money Intel Capital will spend over the next three to four years in a wide variety of areas related to ultrabooks. Areas of interest include technologies to "enhance the user experience, such as sensors, extend battery life and help enable smaller and thinner form factors," said a company spokesman.
Intel announced the ultrabook concept at Computex in Taipei in June. The goal is a thin and light notebook that also has tablet features such as a touch screen.
"From what Intel said this will have the sveltness of a Macbook Air and be able to work as a tablet PC--I think that’s a winning combination," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.), a long time user of the Windows business tablets that preceded the Apple iPad but have not had as much market success.
"What's constrained the Microsoft Tablet PC software is it was designed to work with all existing Windows apps," said Brookwood. "If they create something more like an Android interface with buttons you can touch without needing a stylus that will be good," he said.
"I get very frustrated with some of the limitations of the [Android] Honeycomb tablets that I know would not be a problem with an x86 processor and Windows 7 or 8," he added.
The Taipei announcement about the ultrabook was no accident. Taiwan's notebook makers are working in tandem both on Intel ultrabooks and on ARM-based mobile systems.
Microsoft is expected to release versions of Windows 8 for Qualcomm's Snapdragon, Nvidia's Tegra and Texas Instrument's Omap processors. It marks the first time a major Windows release will run on non-x86 processors. Nvidia plans a whole new line of ARM-based CPUs roughly timed with the Windows 8 launch.
With the Ultrabook Fund "a company thinking about building some extensions of Windows 8 on ARM might instead focus on Windows 8 on x86 and minimize what they are doing on ARM," said Brookwood.
ARM Ltd. was not immediately available for comment on the Intel news.
Intel has been clear it expects to take two years or more to achieve its ultrabook goal. Late this year, first generation ultrabooks are expected to ship using Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors powering systems that are less than 21mm (0.8 inch) thick "at mainstream prices," Intel said.
Next year, ultrabooks will ship using Intel's next generation processors called Ivy Bridge, sporting improved power efficiency, performance, graphics and security. The big leap forward comes in 2013 when systems using Intel's planned Haswell processors emerge.
With Haswell, Intel aims to apply its 22nm tri-gate process technology to significantly reduce power consumption while maintaining performance. To date, x86 processors have out-performed ARM counterparts but at a significant cost in power consumption, heat dissipation and die size.
"If Intel can achieve the same kind of battery life as people get with ARM-based designs, there will be advantages for the x86 because it will have support for all legacy Windows apps and hardware devices that I don’t anticipate will be supported on ARM processors under Windows 8," said Brookwood.
The Ultrabook concept aims to repeat Intel's success with its Centrino notebook platform.
"In 2003, the combination of Intel’s Centrino technology with built-in Wi-Fi, paired with Intel Capital’s $300 million in venture investments and other industry enabling efforts, ushered in the shift from desktop PCs to anytime, anywhere mobile computing," said Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group.
"Our announcement today is about Intel mobilizing significant investments to achieve the next historic shift in computing," he said in a press statement.
"The Intel Capital Ultrabook fund will focus on investing in companies building technologies that will help revolutionize the computing experience and morph today’s mobile computers into the next must-have device," said Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital in the company statement.
Intel Capital maintains a number of dedicated funds including
country-specific funds in Brazil, China, India, the Middle East and Turkey.
Past technology specific funds have included the Intel Digital Home Fund and
the Intel Communications Fund.