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Intel wades into smartphone wars

Moorestown Atom claims ARM-busting chops

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Intel has introduced its second-generation ultra-mobile Atom processor, and the chip giant is telling the world that its new offering is targeted directly into the heart of today's hottest mobile market: smartphones.

Until this week, the anticipated market for the three-chip lineup known as Moorestown was floating unmoored between netbooks and smartphones, seemingly destined for that never-realized product category known as the mobile internet device, or MID.

No more. Intel is positioning Moorestown as a smartphone world-beater.

"Up until now, we haven't really talked about Moorestown as an entry into smartphones," Anand Chandrasekher, head of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group, told a gathering of reporters in San Francisco on Tuesday. "We've talked about it in other devices. We wanted to get all of our power numbers together and get some convincing footprints from our customers. And now we're ready to talk about it. It's really our first foot in the door. And we think we're there from a power standpoint, and we certainly exceed all of our competition from a performance standpoint."

Chandrasekher took direct aim at claims that Intel has missed the smartphone boat. "There does appear to be some confusion which has been fueled a bit by our competitors," he said. "They tend to like to take our netbook product line and compare it to their [smartphone] product line, and it's amusing because we've never really said that we had a smartphone offering until today."

He did admit that Intel was late out of the gate in regard to power-miserliness, but he said that the company has now caught up. "Breaking that power barrier on Intel architecture was not a physical barrier. It's not a physics barrier. It is just something that Intel had not put its mind to. We did not focus on that. We were focused on other aspects of our business. We did not focus on power as a barrier that we wanted to blow away. But when we focused our mind on it, we delivered. In style."

Intel's chief Atom architect Belliappa Kuttanna - who Chandrasekher introduced as "the god of Atom" - provided extensive details on the power-management techniques of the Moorestown platform, which extends the power-gating technologies seen in the first generation of the ultra-mobile Atoms, codenamed Menlow, to include such niceties as an almost-everything-off state that consumes a mere 100 microwatts.

Key to the power savings, according to Kuttanna, is platform-level operating system power management (OSPM) technology that manages not just the processor die (formerly code-named Lincroft), but also the IO controller (Langwell), the mixed-signal IC (Briertown) and other aspects of the platform.

Quoted battery life in a typical smartphone form factor built around Moorestown, according to Chandrasekher, would be approximately 10 days of standby life, two days of audio, five hours of 720p and four hours of 1080p video, five hours of web browsing, and six hours of 3G talk time.

Chandrasekher went to great lengths to explain that when Intel quotes power specs for the Moorestown platform, it doesn't merely mean power to its chips. Holding up his BlackBerry, he said: "When we talk about numbers - all our numbers are measured numbers - this is what I call a platform. All the electronics that go into this are what is being measured at the platform level. It includes the display, it includes the memory, it includes our chips, it includes every single piece of electronics in here when we're measuring power. When we say 'idle power reduction at the platform level,' that's what we mean."

And that idle power for the Moorestown platform, according to Chandrasekher, is "21-ish milliwatts". That's less than one fiftieth the 1.2 to 1.4 watts idle power required by the previous-generation Menlow - which, not to put too fine a point on it, never had much success.

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