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Atom to drive smart phones, tablet

Posted: 07 May 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Atom chip  processor  smart phone  tablet  32nm 

Atom Z6xx

Intel Corp. reveals the 45nm Moorestown platform, its latest Atom chipset designed for the growing market for smart phones and tablets. The chip supports three mobile Linux variants, including Google's Android, but observers said the PC giant's next-generation 32nm chipset will compete more effectively for handset design wins.

Moorestown includes three chips led by the Atom Z6xx series SoC processors formerly known as Lincroft. Like the Pinetrail version of Atom announced in January, the new SoC includes memory and display controllers as well as hardware for 3D graphics and video processing.

The other two Moorestown chips are an I/O controller and a mixed-signal power management chip. Intel said the combination supports 10 days standby time and up to five hours Web browsing and incorporates new low power states to run the chip on as little as 100µW.

The new SoC includes a 512KB L2 cache. Versions for smart phones run at up to 1.5GHz, and ones for tablets run at up to 1.9GHz.

The I/O chip includes a NAND controller, a 24bit audio DSP, camera, USB, hardware support for a range of security algorithms. The mixed-signal chip includes a touchscreen controller. Intel said the part is compatible with power management chips from Freescale, Maxim and Renesas.

The chipset relies on third party silicon from Ericsson, Infineon, Marvell or others to support 3G or Wi-Fi networks.

Morgan Stanley released a report saying it expects Moorestown to start a relatively slow process of Intel gaining a foothold in smart phones. The effort should expand in 2011 when Intel releases a 32nm version of the chips in a platform dubbed Medfield.

"We think actual Moorestown/Medfield unit shipments in the 2010/11 timeframe will likely be too small (less than 10 million units) to move the needle meaningfully," said the Morgan Stanley report. However, as mobile systems continue their shift to use as portable Web browsers and email clients "our view is that the basis of competition will shift increasingly towards ability to handle compute functions, an area of strength for Intel," it said.

An analyst from Barclays Capital agreed in a research note released May 5. "We continue to believe Intel may need to launch its 32nm Medfield offering before seeing significant traction in this highly competitive [smart phone] arena but recognise Intel is making solid progress on both power reduction and performance across video and graphics," wrote analyst Tim Luke.

"We believe an even lower power SoC on 32nm may help Intel in breaking into a market where it competes with Qualcomm's integrated base band/app processor and SnapDragon offerings as well as TI's OMAP offerings along with the internal solutions such as Apple's A4," he added.

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