Intel wades into smartphone wars
Moorestown Atom claims ARM-busting chops
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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But what about the choice of SoC?
Part of the cost advantage of going with ARM is that you only licence the IP - you don't need to involve ARM when it comes to having the things produced. Therefore, you get many, many vendors licencing the same core from ARM and producing different products based around it.
That leads to better competition, and of course, lower prices. Not to mention the fact that restricting yourself to one supplier (in this case, Intel), which puts you entirely at their mercy if they decide to jack up the prices on something you simply cannot get anywhere else.
How many car batteries to get those run times?
Anyone can quote long operational times from a battery, if they are sufficiently vague about the size of those batteries.
John 62 "The x86 overhead is probably pretty small nowadays compared to the rest of the processor."
The x86 overhead never got smaller, what happened is that the processors got bigger; so that when you're dealing with large cores with 10s of millions of transistors the x86 overhead diminishes proportionally.
That's not true for MID devices since the cortex A9s etc use relatively small multi-core CPUs; so the competing x86 overhead will be a constant factor. Intel can't offer anything that ARM can do better, they certainly can't offer anything that scales like ARM does.
The question is: why would you want x86, since nothing needs it any more.
Car batteries need not apply
Since they think they can get the idle power down to as little as 100 milliwatts, those battery times don't seem quite so unbelievable. Tom's Hardware has a really technical review of the chip architecture, explaining why the power savings is so dramatic compared to Z5xx and earlier Atom designs.
I for one welcome our new Smartphone-powering overlords. Competition from Intel in this space can only help us consumers. Having a choice of platforms beyond the Casinoesque universe of Cupertino is a very good thing indeed.
Let's wait for the reality, eh?
So LG have dumped their Moorestown Smartphone design already. That says more than Intel marketing can bluff. Comparing last year's ARM Cortex A8 based systems to next year's Intel system is quite disingenuous. Let's see how next year's dual-core ARM Cortex A9 based systems compare...
Also the power consumption at non-idle isn't really talked about - and I believe this is where Moorestown clearly isn't competitive.
But I'm sure it will be a success in the tablet market. Up against all those $15 ARM SoCs...