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Chipzilla just won't quit: Intel touts 64-bit Atoms for Android phones, tabs

No easy ride for Apple, ARM et al – and there's an 300Mbps LTE chip in the works

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MWC 2014 Intel has launched one new 64-bit, Android-capable Atom processor platform – "Merrifield" – taken the wraps off a future one – "Moorefield" – and introduced a new LTE modem in its latest bid to crack the mobile market as well as position itself for the buzzword du jour, the Internet of Things.

"Today we are announcing leading communications products as well as new computing platforms," Intel president Renee James said in a statement detailing the announcements. "As a result, Intel is well-positioned to shape the future of mobile computing and the Internet of Things."

Forgive us for noting that we've heard this before, when Intel trumpeted Menlow, then Moorestown, then Medfield. However, with Merrifield – now dubbed the Atom Z34XX series [PDF] – Chipzilla just might have produced a platform that has a fighting chance of upsetting the mobile market applecart.

When we discussed Merrifield with Intel spokesman Bill Calder last June, we mentioned to him that Intel had also made glowing promises about the performance-per-watt stats of those three platforms. "I know. I know," he told us at the time. "And I'm with you, too, because I went through that same thing from an internal perspective, and I was frustrated."

But that didn't stop Calder from being bullish about the power miserliness of the new Atom Z34XX, née Merrifield, announced this Monday. "I'll tell you that about Merrifield again, too," he said last June, "because I do drink the Kool-Aid around here – hell, I help mix it and stir it, too, right?"

So here's Intel's latest refreshment: based on the new 64-bit Silvermont architecture and baked in Intel's 22nm Tri-Gate process, the Atom Z34XX series – and specifically the dual-core, dual out-of-order thread 2.13GHz Z3480 announced on Monday – promises "best-in-class battery life" based on a BatteryXPRT 2014 benchmark comparison against Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800.

TechRadar reports that Intel also claims a 19-hour battery life for the Merrifield platform, putting it ahead of both the Samsung's Galaxy S4 LTE-A with a Snapdragon 800 and Apple's iPhone 5S with its own A7 processor, despite having a lower-capacity battery.

Both compute and graphics performance are improved over previous Atom processors, Intel says, with a single-threaded compute bump-up of about 1.7 and a graphics (Imagination PowerVR Series 6) improvement of 2X, both in comparison with the Atom Z2580 introduced in the second quarter of last year.

In her announcement of the new platform, James also emphasized its 64-bit readiness. "Intel knows 64-bit computing," she said, "and we're the only company currently shipping 64-bit processors supporting multiple operating systems today, and capable of supporting 64-bit Android when it is available."

In addition to Merrifield, Intel also announced its follow-on, Moorefield, which should appear near the end of this year. Moorefield will double the Silvermont-architecture core and thread counts to four, run them at clock speeds of up to 2.3GHz, add graphics improvements, and support faster memory.

Of more – Moore? – interest is the fact that Moorefield will be optimized for another part that James announced on Monday: the Intel XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced modem, the successor the XMM 7160 multimode LTE modem that became commercially available last October, optimized for the Merrifield platform.

The XMM 7260, Intel says, can hit LTE-Advanced Category 6 data rates of simultaneous 300Mbps down and 50Mbps up with carrier aggregation technology – and it's the first Intel LTE platform to support that tech.

The XMM 7160, Intel says, has been certified to run on 70 per cent of worldwide LTE networks, and that "customers currently shipping or planning to launch" devices using Intel LTE chips include Acer, ASUS, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, and others. The XMM 7260 is currently undergoing such certification.

Penetration into an LTE market that's dominated by Qualcomm is certainly important to Intel – and to smartphone manufacturers and end users as well, seeing as how competition between two deep-pocket players such as Qualcomm and Intel could result in a bit of a war over price, features, and performance.

It's going to be an interesting year, both on the processor and LTE-modem fronts. As Intel's Calder confidently predicted last June, "The myth that Intel will never be able to get power down low enough to get into phones is gone. That debate is over."

Within the next 12 months we should find out if the market agrees with him. ®

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