LG Bringing Intel's Atom Processor to Smartphones

In the next 18 months, LG Electronics will offer the first mobile Internet device and smartphone that uses Intel's Atom processor technology. This yet-to-be named smartphone and MID device is based on Intel's "Moorestown" that includes a 45-nm Intel Atom processor. The handset device also uses Linux-based Moblin software as well as Ericsson's 3G wireless technology. LG and Intel plan to announce their partnership at the Mobile World Congress show this week.

LG Electronics is planning to bring Intel's Atom processor and platform to the smartphone market for the first time in 2010 with a mobile Internet device based on the upcoming Intel "Moorestown" platform.

At the Mobile World Congress conference, which kicks off Feb. 16 in Barcelona, Spain, Intel and LG plan to announce their new partnership and offer some details of the yet-to-be-named LG MID. While Intel and LG are already talking about this particular MID, LG does not expect to release the handset device until 2010.

The LG MID and smartphone handset will be based on Intel's Moorestown platform that is slated to hit the market in 2010. At the heart of the platform is a system-on-a-chip code-named "Lincroft," which is based on the 45-nanometer Intel Atom processor.

While the Intel Atom processor has been mainly associated with "netbooks" and other types of mininotebooks, Intel also has plans to use the x86 chip technology for a number of different MIDs that can access the Web. The LG announcement confirms Intel's long-rumored other plans for Atom: a chip that looks to challenge ARM's dominance in the smartphone market.

Intel has tried to enter the cell phone and smartphone market before, although with limited success. Instead, ARM has become the processor of choice, and if Intel were to try to enter the market again, it would face competition from the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Freescale.

At the same time, ARM processors, such as the Cortex-A8 and A9, are offering more performance at low power and are even seen as alternative processors for netbooks and other low-cost laptops.

Additionally, Intel and LG have to persuade telecom carriers to support this new device, which is not guaranteed. Still, Intel and LG could find a lot of success in the handset market, especially as the world looks for more mobile solutions to access the Internet.

"Intel is still a key innovator in the market," said Jim McGregor, an analyst with InStat. "The Atom processor is a success, and with the Moorestown platform, they are taking it down into a realm where it is actually competitive for these mobile solutions. ... Do they have an edge when it comes to ARM? No. Intel does not have relationships with the entire ecosystem."

However, Intel does have an advantage when it comes to marketing dollars and a strong research and development organization that could overcome many obstacles. Intel also has an advantage when it comes to software compatibility, especially compared with ARM.

While LG did not offer many details about this MID device, including pricing and specific availability, Intel has been fairly open about what the Moorestown platform can offer users.

For example, Intel engineers have described the Lincroft SOC design as a combination of a 45-nanometer CPU along with graphics, the memory controller, and video encoding and decoding technologies all packaged into a single package for MIDs. In addition, Intel will also offer an I/O hub-code-named "Langwell"-that will allow a MID to connect to wireless, storage and display devices.

The Moorestown platform can also support a number of wireless technologies, including 3G, WiMax, GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. In addition, Intel has struck a deal with Ericsson to provide HSPA (High-Speed Packet Interface) technology for the platform. LG plans on using Ericsson's broadband module to provide 3G technology with this specific MID.

In order to overcome the lock that ARM has had on the smartphone market, Intel also has to ensure that its x86 technology can work within a sub-watt thermal envelope. Right now, Intel has said that Moorestown will offer a 10 times reduction in idle power use compared with the previous MID platform.

In his opinion, McGregor said the Moorestown platform needs to work within a 500-milliwatt envelope for Intel's technology to compete again similar ARM processor offerings. Although Intel has said it wants to continue to reduce the power usages of its processors, the company has not specifically announced how far it can push Moorestown in terms of power consumption.

Finally, the LG MID will use the Intel-developed Moblin operating system, which is based on open-source technology. Intel announced the Linux-based operating system at one of its Developer Forums in 2008, and the LG MID will use the second-generation version of the Moblin OS.

While Moblin is considered open-source software, McGregor admits that it has been specifically designed to work with Intel's x86 microarchitecture. The question is whether LG will stick with Moblin or eventually seek out some other type of operating system, specifically Google's Android software.

"Right now, these handset vendors are going to be testing the waters with new products in one of the harshest environments out there," said McGregor. "They are going to be testing the waters with Moblin, with Android, with x86 and with ARM."