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Intel Enters Smartphone Sector With New Atom Chips

Gordon Kelly


Intel Enters Smartphone Sector With New Atom Chips

While Intel has had everything its own way for quite some time in the desktop and laptop spaces, it has struggled to get into the industry's biggest growth area: smartphones. Well not anymore...

Today sees Intel unveil its greatly anticipated Moorestown platform which will see the company finally leap headlong into high-end smartphones, tablets and other mobile handheld devices. The platform comprises a next generation Intel Atom processor - the Z6xx family - along with a new Platform Controller Hub (PCH) MP20 to create a system on a chip (SoC) which takes the company's products to new power and form factor lows, yet could potentially blow its rivals away in terms of performance.

I spoke to Pankaj Kedia, Intel's director of Global Eccosystem Programmes in its Ultra Mobility Group, who gave me a rundown of what Moorestown will provide. In short he was keen to stress three key points:

1. Power Consumption

Moorestown has platform level power management through both software and hardware integration. This means it can dynamically shutdown WiFi, the display, storage and more which saves power more effectively than simple OS controlled time-outs.

Kedia gave me the example of a high-end smartphone lasting up to 10 days without needing the user to manually shutdown all its more power hungry connectivity, while a tablet could last for up to 30 days in standby. Furthermore a smartphone could last four to five hours playing back high quality video with a tablet managing 10 - 12 hours. This puts Intel on track with the ARM-based handset sector currently dominated by Qualcomm and its Snapdragon chipset. "It will make us a player in the smartphone sector," confirmed Kedia.

2. Performance

While Moorestown will see Intel giving existing mobile chipsets a run for their money in terms of battery life, where it could really pull ahead is performance. SKUs will see CPUs scale to 1.5GHz in the smartphone sector and 1.9GHz in tablets with clock speeds starting from 1GHz.

In real world terms, however, Kedia claims it will offer a 1.5x to 3x performance boost over the Cortex A8 (inside the iPhone 3GS), 2-4x more powerful graphics, 4x faster Javascript for web page rendering and full support for Full HD 1080p video playback and recording at 30fps. That's a lot of grunt.

3. Scalability and compatibility

While Intel is pushing Moorestown primarily at smartphones and tablets, Kedia claims it is easily powerful enough to go into netbooks should manufacturers decide to use them this way to create machines with huge battery life.

On top of this all Moorestown chipsets will retain the same compatibility as existing Intel chipsets meaning they can run any version of Windows, Linux (but not Mac OS X?) yet also run Mobilin, MeeGo and Google Android with support for other mobile OSes coming over time. In essence then, dual booting mobile and desktop platforms would be simple with Moorestown.

So what of availability? Moorestown chipsets are shipping to companies now with devices expected in the second half. Kedia says tablets will lead the way, with smartphones likely towards the end of 2010 and accelerating in volume throughout 2011. Vital with Samsung's leaked ARM Roadmap showing 1.2GHz dual core Snapdragon chips are due on a similar timeframe.

"Smartphones are computers that happen to make a phone call so smartphones are where Intel now needs to be," added Kedia. "Moorestown gets us into the game."

We'll have to put Moorsetown to the test ourselves, but if Intel can deliver on these claims few will disagree with this statement...


Intel UK


May 5, 2010, 5:16 am

Sh*t just got interesting.

I wonder how long it will be before some one pointlessly puts a full version of Windows 7 on their x86 smart phone.

Geoff Richards

May 5, 2010, 11:50 am

Very interesting indeed.

The real question is: which manufacturers will sign up? In Tablet Land it is reasonable to assume all the usual Intel partners will use this platform (HP / Toshiba / MSI / ASUS etc).

However, in Smartphone Land, things are less clear cut. Apple seems keen to do chip design on their own, so while iPhone 4G this summer is too soon for Moorestown, next year's iPhone 5G may not use it either for this reason.

HTC is the obvious big name to win over, but Motorola does big volumes Stateside right now. In theory anything using a Snapdragon could be a target for defection; I have no idea what powers all the RIM devices...

Oh, and don't forget that NVIDIA will be vying to win people over to their Tegra platform.

More power to the people('s pocket) I say :)


May 5, 2010, 1:40 pm

Wonder if Intel will do a better good at courting the handset manufacters than Nvidia have. Do we even know how tegra 2 compares to this? I wasn't that impressed with the improvement in graphics ability as the powerVR is already around that good is it not?

Still will be fun watching where this goes over the next 12 months.

Oh and now I see why (or at least another reason way) the atom CPU has seen almost no performance increase since it was launched. CULV it is for me for my next ultra portable laptop I guess.


May 5, 2010, 2:21 pm

I'll believe it when I see it in action.

The Snapdragon is already at least 2x more powerful than the cortex A8 in the iPhone so nothing special there.

4-5 hours video playback claims seems to be quite poor as this is only theorectical at the moment and when they make claims like this they are usually achieved under best conditions e.g. high capacity batteries etc. Anyway smartphones can already exceed this.

I don't see intel making in roads until there next generation of smartphone/tablet cpus.


May 5, 2010, 3:42 pm

RIM devices use ARM based Qualcomm chips as far as I know, lower down the line than Snapdragon.

I'm thoroughly sceptical. I would think ARM moving into smartbook territory was preferable to this. These chips have been built from the start to be efficient low energy. Scaling up to increase performance seems to be a much better method than scaling down to try and get some efficiency (the intel approach).

Anyway I hope ARM are still as successful - as the shining light of the British tech industry (even if they dont employ that many people!)


May 5, 2010, 3:47 pm

@Gordon: Moorestown has been optimised for MeeGo (= Linux = ex-Moblin) and Android. No Windows here ;-)


May 5, 2010, 5:31 pm

We want to see some real world benchmarks. I can't see how a chip designed to run x86 instructions can be fast & efficient. It might come down to Intel's superior manufacturing ability, however transistor to transistor I bet ARM's designs roast's Intels.


May 5, 2010, 6:42 pm

Well if Apple end up buying ARM then other companies might have no choice, so it could be great timing for Intel. Nobody mentioned Samsung, I think they should be a bigger manufactuer than HTC. Do they make their own chips or do they use ARM ones?


May 5, 2010, 6:48 pm

@HK - Samsung makes its own chips based on ARM designs


May 5, 2010, 7:50 pm

@swift11 you do know it's x86 architecture, so there's no reason why it wouldn't be able to run Windows as long as Intel provides drivers for it...

That said, it's not exactly going to be an optimal solution...


May 5, 2010, 11:44 pm

An OS has to be optimized in terms of power management etc. in this segment. MeeGo will be the highest performance OS for Moorestown to run on top of.

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