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Intel moves in on ARM with Medfield smartphones

Analysis If the chipmaker can get power consumption low enough, that is
Fri Jan 13 2012, 17:13

CHIPMAKER Intel's unveiling of an Atom-based smartphone reference design at CES is the most serious attempt yet by the chip giant to break into the lucrative handset market, and it heats up the rivalry between it and ARM, the dominant chip designer in the mobile device market.

Intel announced partnerships with Lenovo and Motorola at CES in Las Vegas to launch smartphones based on its latest Atom processor, the Atom Z2460, codenamed Medfield.

Although they are not expected to ship until later this year, the impending arrival of these handsets could bring competition to a market that has been almost entirely owned by the ARM chip architecture and its various licensees.

However, details about the Medfield chip and the handsets using it are sparse at the moment. The processor is a single-core 1.6GHz component, and so far we know that it supports hyper-threading and has an integrated PowerVR GPU.

Lenovo's handset, as demonstrated at CES, combines the Intel Atom Medfield chip with 16GB of internal storage, a 4.5in display and an x86 version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

So far it seems that testers report having been impressed with performance of the reference design handsets, but power consumption is also a critical factor. Intel has not disclosed full details about Medfield's power consumption so far, other than saying it is lower than the Moorestown processor from a couple of years ago.

Raw processing performance has always been one area where Intel's x86 architecture has stood out against rivals such as ARM, but while Medfield is a single-core chip, ARM licensees are already introducing quad-core designs that promise to boost performance while consuming no more power than earlier chips.


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