Intel has begun its big push into mobile phones and tablet devices by unveiling the details of an Atom processor platform that uses 50 times less power in idle mode than its current-generation chips.
Excessive power usage has been the chipmaker’s Achilles’ heel in trying to break into smartphones. It needed to reduce consumption to make Atom competitive with Arm-based chips in handheld devices, but the paucity of partner products announced to date suggests it still faces a long haul to make a dent in these new markets.
Paul Otellini, chief executive, showed off an LG smartphone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January that was intended to contain the new platform, codenamed Moorestown, when launched later this year, although there are reports that LG now has no plans for a production model.
Aava Mobile, a Finnish startup, demonstrated a reference design (pictured) with the x86 chip at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February and AT&T’s Moorestown-based OpenPeak tablet (pictured below) was shown at the CTIA phone show in Vegas in March.
Intel had lots of concept devices to show at its Moorestown news conference on Tuesday to launch the platform, but no new names to announce.
Anand Chandrasekher, head of Intel’s Ultra Mobility Group, said the Z6xx Moorestown family of Atom processors were already in production and shipping for revenue with devices expected to appear at retail at the beginning of the second half.
But he said he preferred to talk about the technology rather than customers or market segments.
“The customers in this domain are much more secretive about what they’re doing with the product and about their product timelines and we’ll respect that,” he said.
On whether Intel could succeed in gaining market share from the dominant Arm-based processors, his only comment was: “Technology and innovation winds up winning and we think we’re delivering breakthrough technology.”
The executive described the advances being made with the second-generation Atom platform as historic.
As well as a 50-times idle power-use reduction, enabling more than 10 days of standby, audio and video improvements should provide up to two days of audio playback and 4-5 hours of browsing and video battery life, he said.
The new platform offers up to 1.5Ghz of processing power for smartphones and 1.9Ghz for tablets, as well as 3D graphics, 1080p HD video, video conferencing and multi-tasking.
Intel showed benchmarks where it exceeded the current Arm-based competition, although it was still middle-ranking with Arm devices when it came to power consumption.
The better performance has been achieved with a combination of improved architecture, design and process techniques, with low-power 45-nanometre chips being used and more elements being incorporated into a system-on-a-chip design.
Morgan Stanley analysts said in a report on Monday that they felt Intel would “finally start to meet the power budget for smartphones” with Moorestown and it would outshine competitors in graphics, video, web page loading and software compatibility.
However, they see fewer than 10m units shipping in 2010 and 2011 of Moorestown and a 32-nanometre successor, codenamed Medfield – “too small to move the [earnings per share] needle meaningfully.”