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Intel pursues low-power SoC applications

Posted: 29 Jul 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SoC engineering 

Intel, for the longest time, has been striving to break out of the computer sector. Its SoC engineering group is gearing up complete SoC solutions for leading performance per watt at 22nm and below.

Intel Corp. has got what it needs to be successful in its SoC engineering efforts, said Bill Laszinske, general manager of technical planning and business development at Intel's Atom processors SoC development group. Intel has on-chip interconnect fabric, an extensive IP library and software that it can use to succeed in its SoC engineering efforts.

Few people have doubted that Intel has a high performance processor in the Atom and the manufacturing processing lead. But a couple of years ago observers questioned the power performance of Atom. This led to the SoC group toying with the idea of a third-party manufacturing deal with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd, allowing Atom-based SoCs to be made there. However, no takers were heard of. There was also criticism that while the Atom may be good for PC-like applications extending down to netbooks, Intel lacked the broader infrastructure, particularly the on-chip and complementary IP blocks, to pursue diverse applications.

Leszinske said Intel is aiming at a SoC power consumption budget of about 7 or 8 watts down to less than 1W. The company is now accelerating its introduction of leading-edge low power processes tailored for SoC applications and the low power Atom cores to exploit those processes.

Intel is introducing the Saltwell core at 32nm this year and the Silvermont core in 22nm in 2013 and Airmont core in 14nm in 2014. This is almost twice the pace of the two-yearly manufacturing process introduction that is traditional at Intel, said Leszinske.

"SoC engineering has strong engagement with TMG," noted Leszinske referring to Intel's technology manufacturing group. "This allows us to best optimise SoC processes for target applications. Medfield, due in the first half of 2012 is a chip based on the Saltwell core, which Cloverfield, due in 2H12, is a dual-core implementation of Saltwell."

Intel doesn't just have CPU and graphics performance to offer. It has IP and interconnect assets to create complete solutions.

From IOSF to software via IP
Intel has developed what Leszinske called a chassis to allow IP blocks to be swapped in and out for different applications. This is called the Intel On-Chip System Fabric (IOSF) and it performs an analogous role to the AMBA interconnection scheme used in the ARM community.

There is little detail about the IOSF in the public domain. "It allows us to connect our own and third-party IP, Imagination graphics as an example," Leszinske said. "It's scalable, supports multi-core operation and maintains PCI order, which is important for compatibility of software," he added.

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