Intel: Into Phones

Anand Shimpi says the ARM vs x86 Wars Have Begun: with an In-Depth Power Analysis of Intel’s Atom, Qualcomm’s Krait and Cortex A15, the newest ARM architecture.

The Clover Trail Atom is the dual-core 32nm Atom platform that will power the first generation of value x86 Windows 8 tablets, like the Acer 510 (and go up against ARM based Windows RT designs). Intel’s current roadmaps show the 22nm Silvermont Atom in smartphones by 2013, likely in the latter part of the year. Meanwhile, Intel’s Core i3/i5/i7 architecture, Haswell, will lower power to less than 10 watts.

Intel’s role in the industry has started to change, says Shimpi. It worked very closely with Acer on bringing the W510, W700 and S7 to market. With Haswell, Intel will work even closer with its partners in pursuit of ultimate battery life. The goal is to bring Core down to very low power levels, and to take Atom even lower.

AnandTech reviewed the $500 Acer’s W510 “netbook”, which uses an Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail), with full Windows 8 support, and found it performed better than a Tegra 3.

The Atom Z2760 chip is pretty slow by modern x86 processor standards. But when it comes to CPU-intensive tasks it’s faster than nearly every ARM-based processor on the market.

According to some leaked product slides from 3DCenter, the next-generation Atom Bay Trail chips, could offer up to twice the performance and 3 times the graphics power of previous Atom chips.

Here are Anand’s conclusions about the ARM versus Intel battle:

I’d always heard about Haswell as the solution to the ARM problem, particularly in reference to the Cortex A15. The data here, particularly on the previous page, helped me understand exactly what that meant. Under a CPU or GPU heavy workload, the Exynos 5 Dual will draw around 4W. Peak TDP however is closer to 8W. If you remember back to IDF, Intel specifically called out 8W as a potential design target for Haswell. In reality, I expect that we’ll see Haswell parts even lower power than that.

While it may still be a stretch to bring Haswell down to 4W, it’s very clear to me that Intel sees this as a possiblity in the near term. Perhaps not at 22nm, but definitely at 14nm. We already know Core can hit below 8W at 22nm, if it can get down to around 4W then that opens up a whole new class of form factors to a traditionally high-end architecture.

Ultimately I feel like that’s how all of this is going to play out. Intel’s Core architectures will likely service the 4W and above space, while Atom will take care of everything else below it. The really crazy part is that it’s not too absurd to think about being able to get a Core based SoC into a large smartphone as early as 14nm, and definitely by 10nm (~2017) should the need arise.

We’ve often talked about smartphones being used as mainstream computing devices in the future, but this is how we’re going to get there. By the time Intel moves to 10nm ultramobile SoCs, you’ll be able to get somewhere around Sandy/Ivy Bridge class performance in a phone.

At the end of the day, I’d say that Intel’s chances for long term success in the tablet space are pretty good – at least architecturally. Intel still needs a Nexus, iPad or other similarly important design win, but it should have the right technology to get there by 2014.

Anand may be right. But Intel’s wireless expertise pales in comparison to Qualcomm’s. Perhaps that could lead to some kind of partnership in the future.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro is expected to be released in late January. Priced from $899, the Surface Pro includes an Intel Core i5 processor and 1080p HD display.

A Surface Pro with Haswell — now there’s an ultrabook. By summer. My next computer is always 6 months away!

Of course the Surface Pro still has to compete with the 11″ MacBook Air.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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