The chips, codenamed “Moorestown,” will be highly power efficient, while still packing enough computational muscle to enable features such as video conferencing and HD video, says Intel.
“This is our second generation, low-power Atom platform that can exceed our competition in terms of power and performance,” says Anand Chandrasekher, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Ultra Mobility Group.
The system-on chip package will be based on Intel’s 45-nanometer process and will pack 140 million transistors.
Intel’s chips run the show in netbooks, notebooks and desktop processors, but the company been sidelined in the fast growing smartphone market. Processors based on the rival ARM architecture are in most smartphones today. For instance, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor, which has an ARM-based CPU, is inside the Google HTC Nexus One phone and HTC’s upcoming EVO 4G phone.
Intel tried its hand in the phone chip business earlier, but in 2006, it sold its XScale ARM-based division to Marvell. More recently, Intel has also tried to pitch its current generation of Atom processors to smartphone makers, but the chips were never accepted because they consumed too much power for phone use.
This time around, Intel says its made major improvements to power efficiency so its Moorestown chips can stand up or even beat the competition in energy efficiency.
“This is the third time Intel is entering the smartphone market,” says Flint Pulskamp, an analyst with IDC. “The difference is this time they realize being inside phones is essential to their long term viability so they are being very aggressive with their design and architecture.”
The Moorestown system-on-a-chip has three parts. The first is an Atom processor that combines the CPU core with 3-D graphics, video encoding, memory and display functions. The second is a controller hub that supports system level tasks. The final piece is a mixed-signal integrated circuit that handles the power delivery and battery charging features.
Together these chips use just 1.75% the power of current Atom chips, in the idle state: Instead of the 1.2 Watts drawn by current Atom CPUs, the new Moorestown chips will draw just 21 milliwatts.
Similarly, Intel is promising 5% the power consumption of current Atom processors, or 115 milliwatts, while browsing the web; and 1/3rd the power consumption while playing video.
These power savings translate into more than 10 days of standby time, up to 2 days of audio playback and four to five hours of browsing and video battery life, says Intel.
“We can generally dynamically detect what the phone is doing and adjust the power consumption,” says Belliappa Kuttanna, the principal architect of Intel’s Atom architecture.
The new Moorestown chip supports clock speeds of up to 1.5 GHz for high-end smartphones (compared to the 1 GHz seen in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors) and up to 1.9 GHz for tablets and other handheld designs. The chips have been designed for the Android operating system and for Intel’s Moblin OS.
Intel says it is already producing these chips and consumers can expect mobile devices that use Intel chips later this year.
But so far, the company hasn’t announced any smartphone models that will use Moorestown. Earlier this year, the company has demonstrated the use of Atom processors in a phone produced by LG.
Breaking into the smartphone market will be tough for Intel, says IDC’s Pulskamp. Intel will have to compete with companies such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Infineon, all of which use ARM-based architecture.
“Intel is trying to move step-by-step in the mobile market,” says Pulskamp. “They did well with netbooks and now they are looking at phones. But they are going to face more a challenge in smartphones than they did with netbooks