Intel Announces Partnership with Rockchip to Produce Low-Cost x86 Atom SoC

Subject: Processors | May 28, 2014 - 05:09 PM |
Tagged: tablet, SoC, Rockchip, mobile, Intel, atom, arm, Android

While details about upcoming Haswell-E processors were reportedly leaking out, an official announcement from Intel was made on Tuesday about another CPU product - and this one isn't a high-end desktop part. The chip giant is partnering with the fabless semiconductor manufacturer Rockchip to create a low-cost SoC for Android devices under the Intel name, reportedly fabricated at TSMC.

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We saw almost exactly the opposite of this arrangement last October, when it was announced that Altera would be using Intel to fab ARMv8 chips. Try to digest this: Instead of Intel agreeing to manufacture another company's chip with ARM's architecture in their fabs, they are going through what is said to be China's #1 tablet SoC manufacturer to produce x86 chips...at TSMC? It's a small - no, a strange world we live in!

From Intel's press release: "Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies will deliver an Intel-branded mobile SoC platform. The quad-core platform will be based on an Intel® Atom™ processor core integrated with Intel's 3G modem technology."

As this upcoming x86 SoC is aimed at entry-level Android tablets this announcement might not seem to be exciting news at first glance, but it fills a short term need for Intel in their quest for market penetration in the ultramobile space dominated by ARM-based SoCs. The likes of Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung, TI, and others (including Rockchip's RK series) currently account for 90% of the market, all using ARM.

As previously noted, this partnership is very interesting from an industry standpoint, as Intel is sharing their Atom IP with Rockchip to make this happen. Though if you think back, the move is isn't unprecedented... I recall something about a little company called Advanced Micro Devices that produced x86 chips for Intel in the past, and everything seemed to work out OK there...

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When might we expect these new products in the Intel chip lineup codenamed SoFIA? Intel states "the dual-core 3G version (is) expected to ship in the fourth quarter of this year, the quad-core 3G version...expected to ship in the first half of 2015, and the LTE version, also due in the first half of next year." And again, this SoC will only be available in low-cost Android tablets under this partnership (though we might speculate on, say, an x86 SoC powered Surface or Ultrabook in the future?).

Source: Intel
May 29, 2014 | 09:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What is this, Intel trying to license out an x86 ISA, or reference design to some other company to fab on a different less costly fab process node, the contra revenue must not be enough, or is this just another way to gain some market share and dependence on the x86 ISA. All those "wonderful" deals Intel has had with x86 over the years have come back to haunt the minds of the mobile OEMs. Intel's contra revenue around x86 should never be used as a justification for "competition" in the mobile market against ARM, no, it should always be considered as part of the x86 market and classified as unfair competition against the other x86 maker/s! The only way to compete against an licensed IP business model that decentralizes the ISA of any microarchitecture across an entire industry, is to join the Licensed ISA/IP party and use that as one source of revenue, while maybe becoming a Fab/other SOC technology business in the process. With all the others going the Licensed ISA/IP way, Power/Power8, MIPS, others, as well as the original ARM, there is going to be more money in providing on die CPU block interconnect fabrics, as well as other system integration/fab services, etc. with these different ISA/IP based SOCs, than just in putting all the eggs in one basket around one microarchitecture ISA/IP.

I am sure that Samsung, and Apple and others are going to be evaluating the Power8 ISA, now that it is up for licensing, along side any other ISAs that may be right for the specialized workloads across the server market, and the mobile and PC/laptop market. The SOC/CPU ISA/IP cat is out of the bag, and on the table for a Licensing fee, and it's too late to stop, that cat has a mind of its own. There is gold in the SOC functional blocks, on die interconnect fabrics and system integration business, along with ISA licensing and Fab business, across the entire market of ISAs that are now part of the licensed ISA/IP market.

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