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Intel revamps Atom road map to counter ARM

Posted: 19 May 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Atom  low-power processor  22nm 

Intel Corp. decides to counter mounting competition from ARM-based chips by revamping its Atom road map to quicken Atom core design rollouts. Intel is also working on driving drive down the target power of its notebook chips and expand the thermal range of its SoCs, all geared towards driving its x86 chips into smartphones and tablets.

"We decided our road map is inadequate, and we needed to change the centre point," says chief executive Paul Otellini, claiming the shift will be as significant as the debut of its Pentium and Centrino designs.


Paul Otellini: Intel's CEO

Specifically, Intel will roll out a 14nm Atom core called Airmont in 2014, the same time it debuts mainstream PC CPUs using the process technology. Intel's current Atom core is based on a 45nm process, lagging its PC chips by a generation.

Over the next three years, Intel will accelerate Atom designs, rolling out a 22nm core called Silvermont in 2013. It is already demonstrating a 32nm core in its Medfield processor geared for smartphones and tablets that could ship in 2012.

The acceleration of new Atom designs will create a "very compelling road map [that] doubles the pace of Moore's Law" progress for the architecture, Otellini says.

Separately, starting at the 22nm node Intel is shifting the focus of its notebook designs to a 15W power target down from 40W today. In addition, it will broaden the scope of its SoC designs to cover chips that range from less than a Watt to nearly 10W.

The changed focus will translate to "a complex set" a host of micro-architecture and circuit level shifts for Intel engineers, says Dadi Perlmutter, general manager of the Intel Architecture group. "It changes the way you do power management, how you handle parallelism in graphics and media and more," as he adds on the statement.

Meanwhile, Otellini pledged Intel will have in the first half of 2012 a major smartphone design for Medfield, the 32nm version of Atom. The company is recovering from the loss of a key partner in Nokia, which recently decided to embrace Windows Phone 7, abandoning work on Medfield.

"We didn't sit down and mope," says Otellini.

He adds that, "We had been working with Nokia very closely almost exclusively, [so] we have freed up those people and turned that [design] into a reference design that we are shopping to a number of companies."


Perlmutter holding the Medfield smartphone.

Perlmutter showed the Medfield smartphone design and a seven-inch tablet design running the Gingerbread version of Google's Android. The company is porting to the x86 Google's Honeycomb, the tablet version of Android, and expects to have a 10inch tablet reference design and developers kit ready before the end of the year.

Medfield will run at milliwatt power levels that are competitive with today's 40nm smartphone chips, Perlmutter says. The chip sports just a single core at a time when competitors are rolling out dual-core chips, but the Atom core will deliver better performance than the competition, he claims.

Otellini said Intel now has 2000 design wins for Atom, 21 per cent of them conversions from other architectures, mainly ARM. Intel showed a handful of tablets and netbooks from companies including Fujitsu and Viewsonic using its Pine Trail and Oak Trail processors, part of a group of as many as 35 tablet design wins for Atom.

Otellini also renewed a long time Intel commitment to make the PC a more consumer-friendly device. He promised within the next 24 months, tablet-like ultrathin consumer PCs running multiple OSes and supporting all-day battery life.

"This is about reinventing the PC, making it more of a consumer electronics device," Otellini says.

- Rick Merritt
  EE Times

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