Intel breaks into smartphones at last
Announces first Atom handset, from Lenovo, plus a multiyear device alliance with Motorola Mobility
Published: 11 January, 2012
Intel has finally made its smartphone breakthrough, announcing deals with Motorola Mobility and Lenovo - though not, as yet anyway, the expected contract with LG.
The tie-up with Motorola is particularly important because it will soon, regulators willing, be part of Google, so the deal just intensifies the newly close collaboration between the search giant and Intel. Such partnerships are vital as Intel looks to push its Atom processors into the Android market, where ARM-based chips from Qualcomm and others dominate. This is especially important as Qualcomm and other ARM players are getting close to Microsoft, optimizing their silicon for the upcoming Windows 8, which will span x86 and ARM architectures.
Intel has struggled to reduce the power consumption of its Atom SoCs to handset levels, but the latest model, Medfield, looks to be its breakthrough product and will feature in Android smartphones from Motorola Mobility, scheduled to ship in the second half of this year. In addition, the two firms have announced a multiyear, multi-device strategic partnership for Atom/Android devices including tablets and handsets, and also including cooperation on software and services.
The Medfield platform runs on a 32 nanometer SoC called Penwell, or Atom Z2460, which combines the single-core Saltwell Atom CPU plus several surrounding chips, some from third parties like Texas Instruments. Power is reduced, far lower than many Intel critics had predicted, with the highest 'burst-mode' consumption for Penwell running between 750mW and 800mW, with a the top clock frequency of 1.6GHz. Intel did not reveal the power consumption levels for the full Medfield chipset, with its modem, 1Gbyte of DRAM, and power management ICs.
At the Consumer Electronics Show, Intel also showed off a new Atom/Android smartphone from Lenovo, the K800. This will launch with China Unicom in the second quarter, though it is not clear how international the Chinese OEM's reach will become. The device is 10 millimeters thick with a 4.5-inch screen, 8-megapixel camera and eight hours of 3G talk time. Intel CEO Paul Otellini said the phone was the first example of Intel's smartphone reference design, which is designed to major on high performance.
Despite its huge presence in PCs, Lenovo has struggled to move into mobile gadgets - as have other PC majors like Dell. The existing close ties between these manufacturers and Intel could ease the path of both sides into the smartphone and tablet worlds.
Last week, Intel was expected to announce its first Medfield handsets with LG and possibly even Samsung. LG still seems a likely candidate for future devices because it has worked closely with the chip giant for years, and two years ago showed off an Atom-based smartphone running Windows Mobile, although that did not progress beyond the prototype stage in the end.
At CES, Intel also provided details of its forthcoming 32nm Atom SoC, Clover Trail, optimized for Windows 8 tablets and hybrid touch/notebook designs. It also announced the first ultrabook from Dell, running its i7 Core processor, and previewed the next generation of ultrabook chips, Ivy Bridge.