Intel will dramatically shake up its microprocessor road map to meet the demand for very-low-power processors and to fend off the competitive threat from rival chip design company ARM, CEO Paul Otellini said Tuesday.
"We decided, looking forward, that our road map was inadequate," Otellini said at the company's financial analyst meeting.
Intel will accelerate its shift to more advanced manufacturing technologies, allowing it to speed the pace at which it can introduce new, lower-power chips, he said.
It will also shift its design goals to lower the midpoint in power consumption around which all its chips are built. That midpoint today is 35 to 40 watts, a level set to meet the demands of the notebook market.
"We're shifting that midpoint down to 15 watts," Otellini said. This will allow the company to offer more power-efficient processors for notebooks and also new system-on-chip Atom processors for tablets and smartphones, which will operate at 5 watts and below.
Otellini said the changes are as significant as Intel's introduction of the Pentium processor in the 1990s, which brought multimedia capabilities to its chips.
Dadi Perlmutter, joint head of the Intel Architecture Group, was expected to provide more details later Tuesday.
The announcement comes as Intel grapples with competitive pressure from ARM, the UK company whose low-power processor designs are used in most of today's tablets and smartphones, including the iPad and iPhone. Intel's low-power Atom chips, which did well in netbooks, are considered too power-hungry for this emerging class of ultraportable devices.
To help overcome that, Intel expects to move to a 14-nanometer manufacturing process in about three years, Otellini said. The figure refers to the size of the smallest circuits etched onto chips, and smaller transistors consume less power.
That means 14-nanometer Atom processors could be on the market by 2014. Intel's road map for its Atom processors now shows a 32-nanometer chip code-named Saltwell, a 22-nanometer part code-named Silvermont and a 14-nanometer chip dubbed Airmont.
Moving that quickly will represent a doubling of the pace of Moore's Law, according to Otellini.
He also sought to play down the threat from tablets, calling their share of the personal computing market as "a rounding error" when laptops and PCs are taken into account.
He also rebuffed unconfirmed reports that Apple might move away from Intel chips to ARM-based processors. Such a move "would take a long time and cost someone a lot of money," he said.
It's something Apple has done before with its Macintosh computers, however, when it switched from PowerPC processors to Intel's x86 chips several years ago.