Intel outlines two-tiered mobile chip roadmap
Will harness new 22nm process for two-year plan targeting superphones as well as low end models, then move to 14nm
Published: 14 May, 2012
As promised, Intel has announced further details of its smartphone processor roadmap, pledging to harness its latest manufacturing processes for the low power requirements of mobile devices.
The chip giant detailed its plan for the next two years at its investor meeting in California on Thursday. It currently has three main customers for Medfield, the first Atom processor truly suited to handsets - Lava International has already shipped a smartphone in India, while Motorola Mobility and Lenovo also plan launches. But Intel needs to go a lot further in boosting the performance/power efficiency ratio to eat into the 95% share of ARM-based processors in the mobile world.
The company will take a two-headed approach, with one development path focused on high performance superphones and tablets, and the other on pushing Atom into affordable, low end smartphones. The latter is an area Intel has largely ignored until now, and many assumed it would concentrate only on the top end where mobile devices converge with its traditional PC markets. But most handset growth lies in emerging markets and the midrange, and Intel needs the volume to hit out at ARM.
For low end smartphones, it promises to release a fully integrated chip next year, using its new 22nm process, which enables lower energy consumption and greater compactness. The chip will be a follow-up to the 1GHz Atom Z2000, which has not been targeted at handsets.
At the high end, Intel will release the Atom Z2580 smartphone chip later this year. It will have a dual-core processor and LTE capabilities, and will double the performance of the current single-core Z2460, which is found in a 3G smartphone, the X900 from Xolo. Both these chips are made in the 32nm process.
Next year Intel will release a low power Atom chip codenamed Merrifield for high performance smartphones. This will use the 22nm process, Intel's new '3D' transistor technology, and its upcoming new processor design, a combination which the firm believes will transform its impact on the new breed of mobile devices. It will also include a newly designed graphics core, and Mike Bell, general manager of the company's mobile and communications group, said it will support a more "immersive experience". On a webcast to describe the roadmap, he claimed: "It's a retooled part from the ground up."
By 2014, Intel will release chips made using the 14nm process, though it gave no details of specific offerings. CEO Paul Otellini told the investors that smartphone chip development over the next two years will go at twice the pace of Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors in a chip doubles every two years. The firm argues that, against such a backdrop, its control of its cutting edge manufacturing processes enables it to innovate more quickly and flexibly than its fabless rivals. Qualcomm has recently warned of difficulties in getting sufficient volume of its new 28nm chips from its main foundry, TSMC.