by Anton Shilov
11/21/2013 | 11:10 PM
Intel Corp. on Thursday – at the annual meeting with investors – revealed its new roadmap for the series of mobile chips known as Atom. The new general plan reveals chips due in the second half of 2014 and in 2015 as well as unveils certain aspects of Intel’s approach to the portable device segment in general. In a bid to better serve the market, Intel said it would converge its offerings for tablets and smartphones, but will add a line of entry-level SoCs for entry-level devices.
“Market-oriented pragmatism” is the new motto of Intel’s mobile and communication group, which is planning to introduce a set of new products designed to expressively improve the company’s positions in the mobile space. Starting from 2014, instead of offering considerably different system-on-chips (SoCs) based on generally similar architecture for smartphones and media tablets, Intel will offer one design with different options. In addition to that, the company will introduce specially-developed highly-integrated application processors for entry-level devices.
The first key Atom product that Intel wants to release next year is code-named Merrifield, which is a high-end smartphone/mid-range tablet solution based on two x86 Silvermont cores, improved graphics core, integrated sensor hub, but without any baseband capabilities. The second iteration of this product will be code-named Moorefield, which will feature four Silvermont cores, enhanced security as well as improved battery life. Both system-on-chips will be made using 22nm process technology.
Sometimes in mid-2014 the company plans to release its all-new TD-LTE & TD-SCDMA modem that will support advanced capabilities like carrier aggregation, 300Mb/s Cat 6 network speeds as well as 17 4G/LTE FDD bands and 6 TDD bands. A powerful truly-global communication solution should become quite popular among many handset makers.
Intel intends to release code-named Cherry Trail system-on-chips featuring next-gen Airmont general-purpose x86 cores as well as its own eight-generation graphics core in late 2014. This product will clearly boost performance and cut power consumption, but it will unlikely become as revolutionary as its successor code-named Broxton.
The Broxton chip – for the first-time for Intel Atom-branded ultra-mobile solutions – will be built based on a special internal architecture that allows to quickly and easily reconfigure chips, create new designs and tailored solutions for particular applications. Generally, with Broxton, Intel will be able to address market opportunities significantly quicker than it does today. Chief executive of Intel even implied to expect a broad family of Broxton designs aimed at different high-performance applications.
Broxton will be based on next-generation Goldmont micro-architecture, will be made using 14nm process technology and will likely offer a number of unique capabilities that Intel does not want to talk about today. Given the fact that the Broxton design will allow integration of third-party IP into itself, it should largely rely on industry-standard technologies.
“Broxton is targeted towards the performance segment of the smartphones and tablets. Think of it as of the next-generation Atom. […] This is a core that has a complete new what we call “chassis” or, basically, connectivity that allows us to do iterations and derivatives of this [Broxton] core at a very fast clip. Think of it as of a core with a common chassis that allows connection of both external and external IP at a very fast rate, a kind of rate you see with our competitor’s products,” said Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel, at the meeting with investors.
In many ways Intel’s Broxton approach – which allows integration of third-party IP – resembles AMD’s “ambidextrous” strategy aimed primarily at semi-custom accelerated processing units. Intel yet has to reveal the details about Broxton, but it looks like the company is getting a tad more liberal regarding designs of its chips.
Broxton will be available sometimes in mid-2015.
In a bid to properly address the market of entry-level smartphones and tablets, Intel will introduce code-named SoFIA system-on-chip with integrated global 3G, HSPA+ baseband capabilities and with Atom x86 general-purpose processing technology sometimes in late 2014.
In order to design the chip, Intel decided to take a relatively simple road: it took an SoC designed by Infineon’s wireless business unit (which Intel now owns) years ago, removed an ARM general-purpose core and installed its own 64-bit IA [Silvermont?] core instead. As a result, the company got a highly-integrated solution suitable for low-cost feature phones or smartphones. The SoFIA will be made by a contract manufacturer, not Intel itself.
In late 2015, Intel will introduce SoFIA with 4G/LTE, which will be made using 14nm process technology at Intel’s fabs.
Intel clearly has reworked its mobile roadmap from what it looked some three to four months ago. The company scrapped certain products, delayed others, but moved forward a number of promising concepts. Will that help Intel to become a large maker of mobile SoCs? Only time will tell.