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Intel describes its 'Y' chips ambitions for tablets

Chip giant will start to make a big effort to drive its Y series chips into tablets.

The upcoming Microsoft Surface Pro tablet is a good candidate for Intel's new Y series processors.
The upcoming Microsoft Surface Pro tablet is a good candidate for Intel's new Y series processors. Microsoft

LAS VEGAS--Intel is trying to move its chips from below the keyboard to behind the glass.

In other words, more emphasis on the tablet half of the equation.

Behind the glass: "We believe...detachables are fundamentally different," Adam King, Intel's director of notebook marketing, said in an interview with CNET, referring to laptop designs with displays that can be removed from the base to become standalone tablets.

"The point of differentiation is that the processor is...behind the glass," he said.

"Detachables we think of as a tablet first. Because when you take it out of the base, it better be a pretty good tablet or the user is going to be disappointed," King said.

And that's the kind of device Intel is targeting for its Y series of power-efficient Core processors, which it announced at CES on Monday.

"If you're going behind the glass, you need the Y processor," according to King.

The upcoming Surface Pro tablet from Microsoft would be a good example of the kind of device suitable for a Y series chip, King said, without confirming that Microsoft is in fact going to use the processor in the Pro.

"Getting it behind the glass is more challenging because you want a thin design there and you've got all of the heat coming from the LCD so it's much more thermally challenging to put it behind glass (than under the keyboard)," King said.

Of course, Intel is already putting its power-sipping Atom chips behind the glass in tablet designs. Problem is, Atom is not as capable a processor as mainstream Core silicon, like Intel's Y chips. In short, Atom can choke when multitasking more demanding Windows applications.

Y chips require new power rating: Intel also described the new power rating for its Y chips, which King admitted required "more context" when the processors were introduced on Monday as 7-watt processors.

The rating "is new and different and needs explaining," King said.

And this is where it gets a little complicated. Based on Intel's historical "TDP" power rating, the Y series chips are rated at 13 watts. But based on a new "SDP" yardstick Intel introduced this week, it gives them a 7-watt rating. Typically, the lower the wattage, the more power efficient the chip is.

"TDP is designed to light up as much of the [chip] as possible. The reality is that 99.9 percent of users will never actually stress their system to that level. So there's actually a big margin of safety built into TDP," King said.

He continued. "For the devices that we're targeting, as they move to more content-consumption (tablet-use) workloads, it doesn't make sense anymore to just give guidance to our OEMs on that extreme-set-point TDP definition," he said.

"SDP is a workload that represents a more mainstream workload. For the Y processor line we'll talk about SDP because that's really the primary design point that makes sense for the kind of devices that use those processors," he said.

Going forward, SDP will be applied to Y series chips only -- including future Haswell processors -- while TDP will continue to be used for more power-hungry U and M series processors, according to King.