SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel Corp. will spin four versions of its Atom mobile PC processor and two new companion I/O chips tailored for different embedded systems markets, the company said Monday (March 2). The four Z5xx chips support a variety of packages and operating temperatures to make them better suited for markets such as in-car entertainment, industrial control and media phones.
In a separate announcement today, Intel said it will make some of its Atom cores available through TSMC for SoC designs by third parties. "We view the collaboration as a strategic positive for Intel--potentially enabling expanded Atom revenues--although there were few details on time line, margin implications and process node," said Tim Luke, a financial analyst with Barclays Capital.
"I think the move by Intel is brilliant, but only time will tell if they can reach the low power levels of ARM's Cortex A8 and next-year's multicore Cortex A9," said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts, (Tempe, Ariz.).
"Since Intel has no low-power CMOS process of its own, it had to go with TSMC for the original Atom, too, and TSMC already has in place similar agreements with core providers like CEVA and ARM," he added.
The new Atom variants mark Intel's first effort to bring its Atom--the smallest and lowest power x86 chip it builds--into its long standing embedded portfolio. To date Atom has done relatively well selling into ultra thin and light subnotebooks that Intel has dubbed netbooks, such as the AsusTek Eee PC.
"Clearly, Intel realizes that ARM licensees, especially Qualcomm, TI and Nvidia will be providing powerful low-power SoCs for mobile Internet devices and netbooks, beginning next quarter," Strauss said.
The x86 giant has long maintained embedded versions of its PC processors. However, unlike competitors such as Freescale and many others, it has not generally made significant investments in designs tailored to specific vertical markets.
The latest chips basically continue that pattern. Intel is creating two package sizes (13x14mm and 22x22mm) and two temperature operating grades (commercial and industrial), but it is not announcing any Atom variants tailored for specific embedded markets.
However, Intel has designed embedded SoCs in the past and will likely do so with the Atom core at some point, said Doug Davis, general manager of Intel's embedded and communications group in a news conference over the Web. "As we commit to seven year life cycles we want to make sure there is a large or long range of design opportunities," he said.
Intel's embedded business has grown to more than $1 billion, rising about 16 percent a year over the last several years, Davis said. In some market segments, "with the Atom processor we begin to bump up against ARM," he added.
Intel hopes Atom and its companion chips with media accelerators can raise the level of graphics and video support in many embedded systems, as well as bring support for a full Linux or Windows operating system. The company aims to expand its footprint in a market for Internet connected embedded systems that could grow to 15 billion by 2015, according to International Data Corp.
"Meeting the needs of embedded environments and new market segments will play a large role in delivering the connectivity and functionality necessary as the number of devices connecting to the embedded Internet grows," said Davis in a prepared statement.
Intel will offer a seven-year lifecycle for products in some areas including in-car entertainment. Separately, Intel is releasing a reference design for a media phone, an emerging product concept that supports Internet protocol voice and video links.
The new chips will be available by June.