Intel Unveils New Atom Platforms for Smartphones, Tablets

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-02-25

Intel Unveils New Atom Platforms for Smartphones, Tablets

Intel came into the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last month taking another big swing at the booming mobile device space, showing off low-power Atom chip platforms and outlining plans for making inroads in the value smartphone space in emerging markets.

At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona, Spain, this week, Intel executives are looking to continue that aggressive stance, unveiling the latest Atom system-on-a-chip (SoC) and beginning to talk about the next-generation Atom chip—“Merrifield”—that will start appearing in smartphones later this year.

In addition, Intel officials outlined the upcoming quad-core “Bay Trail” Atom processor that they are aiming at tablets that run both Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Google’s Android mobile OS. Intel already is running Bay Trail on some Windows and Android systems, and the chip platform will be ready for systems makers in time for the 2013 holiday season, according to company officials.

Intel also will begin offering a multimode-multiband Long Term Evolution (LTE) processor in the first half of the year to enable smartphones, tablets and Ultrabooks to leverage a number of networks, including 4G LTE, DC-HSPA+ and EDGE.

Intel also noted the growing number of partners and devices that are leveraging its chips in smartphones and tablets.

“Today’s announcements build on Intel’s growing device portfolio across a range of mobile market segments,” Hermann Eul, vice president and co-general manager of Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group, said in a statement. “In less than a year's time we have worked closely with our customers to bring Intel-based smartphones to market in more than 20 countries around the world, and have also delivered an industry-leading low-power Atom SoC tablet solution running Windows 8, and shipping with leading OEM customers today.”

Intel will “build upon this foundation and work closely with our ecosystem partners, across operating systems,” Eul said.

Intel is pushing into the mobile device space as it looks to expand its reach beyond PCs and servers. The challenge is finding room in a market that is dominated by low-power processors designed by ARM Holdings and made by the likes of Qualcomm and Nvidia. The key for Intel is continuing to drive down the power consumption of its chips as it builds up the performance and core count. Intel officials have said that the power efficiency of their chips are now comparable to ARM’s, though their Atom chips are still dual-core right now, while Qualcomm and Nvidia already offer quad-core chips.

Intel is looking to change that this year. The newest Atom chip—“Clover Trail+”—is aimed at smartphones, and the chip giant’s smartphone reference design based on Clover Trail+ offers energy efficiency and battery life that are competitive with current Android-based phones. The dual-core chips come in three models—the Z2580, Z2560 and Z2520—that run from 1.2GHz to 2.0GHz.

Intel Unveils New Atom Platforms for Smartphones, Tablets

Intel officials said the new Atom platform offers twice the performance and up to three times the graphics abilities of its “Medfield” predecessor, all in a low-power envelope.  They said that Asus, Lenovo and ZTE are among the first OEMs to offer smartphones and tablets based on Clover Trail+. Lenovo at the MWC was showing off the K900 smartphone running on the new Atom platform.

Later this year, Intel will start shipping Merrifield, a 22-nanometer Atom chip that will feature such technologies as Intel’s Tri-Gate 3D transistor architecture, designed to drive down power consumption. By contrast, Clover Trail+ is a 32-nm chip. Intel gave few other details about Merrifield.

Intel also is continuing its efforts in value phones for emerging markets. At CES, the company unveiled the Atom Z2420—formerly “Lexington”—which has been adopted by Acer for handsets in Thailand and Malaysia, Lava International in India, and Safaricom in Kenya. Etisalat Misr, a telecommunications company in Egypt, will roll out the Etisalat E-20 smartphone based on the Z2420 in April, while Acer at the MWC was set to announced an Android tablet powered by the Atom platform.

Asus at the show announced the FonePad, a 7-inch tablet running Android and powered by the Z2420.

Bay Trail will be Intel’s first quad-core Atom platform, and will double the performance of the company’s current tablet chips. Tablets based on Bay Trail will able to come in designs as thin as 8mm and will offer all-day battery life and weeks of standby, according to company officials. The tablet makers Intel is working with are Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, LG Electronics and Samsung, as well as ODMs like Compal, ECS, Pegatron, Quanta and Wistron.

Also in the first half of 2013, Intel will begin shipping its XMM 7160, a multimode-multiband LTE processor that will enable smartphones, tablets, Ultrabooks and other mobile devices to access a variety of networks, something that rivals like Qualcomm and Nvidia already offer. Intel currently sells a single-mode 4G LTE processor.

“The 7160 is a well-timed and highly competitive 4G LTE solution that we expect will meet the growing needs of the emerging global 4G market,” Intel’s Eul said. “With LTE connections projected to double over the next 12 months to more than 120 million connections, we believe our solution will give developers and service providers a single competitive offering while delivering to consumers the best global 4G experience.”

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