SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel Corp. will debut the world's biggest commercial microprocessor as well as its lowest power X86 chip at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco next week. But a server chip from Sun Microsystems and a cellphone processor from Texas Instruments debuting at ISSCC will outflank Intel on both fronts.
Intel will describe Silverthorne, an x86 chip that consumes less than 2W, about one-fifth the power of Intel's lowest power notebook chips. The company aims to use the CPU to enable a new generation of PC-compatible handheld devices.
Intel's Silverthorne is a 25mm-squared chip made in the company's latest 45nm process. It can issue two instructions per clock and run at rates up to 2 GHz with a front-side bus capable of 533 million transactions/second.
While Silverthorne makes significant strides ratcheting down the power of an X86 core, it is still consumes much more power than high-end cellphone chips and lacks any of their integrated communications circuitry. Silverthorne is part of a broader group of five or more chips, including Wi-Fi and ultimately WiMax silicon, Intel will gather into designs for so-called ultramobile PCs and mobile Internet devices.
"The competition considers 2W laughable," said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts (Tempe, Ariz.). "600 mW is the power budget for an entire cellphone processor and baseband," he said.
In the same ISSCC session, TI will demonstrate a full blown cellular chip that includes an 840 MHz ARM11 processor. It includes a TI C55x DSP core running at 480 MHz as a communications baseband supporting the latest cellular transports including HSUPA and WCDMA.
TI did not disclose the size and power consumption of the chip in the ISSCC abstract, however it is likely significantly smaller and lower power than Silverthorne. The chip is the first 45nm cellular processor TI has described, according to Strauss, and the first to crank an ARM11 processor to 840 MHz.
Qualcomm also aims to enable very powerful yet mobile systems with its pending Snapdragon architecture, believed to be based on a modified version of the ARM Cortex core. "All these companies are targeting the ultramobile device," said Strauss.