Intel Medfield x86 SoC Targets Android Phones and Tablets

Subject: Processors, Mobile | December 26, 2011 - 01:44 PM |
Tagged: Intel, Medfield, Android, x86, SoC

Intel hopes that 2012 will finally be the year they see mainstream phones with Intel inside.  Despite Intel's attempts to tell us otherwise for the past several generations, the upcoming Medfield design is the first truly serious attempt to enter the phone and tablet market currently dominated by the many ARM-based partners of phone manufacturers all over the world.  A recent post over at Technology Review discussed the advantages that Medfield offers over previous Intel Atom-based designs with Steve Smith, Intel's VP of Architecture.

First shown at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this past September, a Medfield-based reference design has many believing in what some thought was impossible but what others thought was inevitable: Intel x86 cores in a phone that matters.  Why the change from many in the analyst space?  Medfield is the first option from Intel that is truly a single-chip solution, removing design space concerns and power consumption issues that previous Atom-architecture solutions were saddled with. 

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Intel showed Technology Review the Android-based reference phone running Gingerbread.

The phone prototype seen by Technology Review was similar in dimensions to the iPhone 4 but noticeably lighter, probably because the case was made with more plastic and less glass and metal. It was running the version of Google's operating system shipping with most Android phones today, known as Gingerbread; a newer version, Ice Cream Sandwich, was released by Google only about a month ago.

Intel has a lot of experience in the consumer markets though it took a shift inside the company to really put the focus on phones and tablets over netbooks and convertible-notebooks.  At the recent showing not only did they have the reference design phone but also an iPad-like tablet device running Ice Cream Sandwich, another key to the consumer's dollar.  And as you can clearly see in the diagram below, there is a lot of money being made that Intel wants in on.  A LOT.

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Source: Technology Review, IDC

Intel will also enjoy a process technology advantage over the competition with current Medfield SoCs built on the company's internal 32nm process and the upcoming 22nm technology promises even more power consumption advantanges.  ARM designs are built at different foundries including Samsung and TSMC and while they are competitive, no one can keep up with Intel on this front. 

Anandtech also had some interesting information to share from an investor conference earlier this month about the power consumption and performance levels of Medfield. 

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Source: Anandtech.com

The diagram shows that power consumption on Medfield should be competitive with the current ARM-based SoC leaders in the market today.  Areas like 3G standby, basic audio playback and video playback should be accomplished with minimal power draw in order to have battery life extended to at least current expectations.  The performance graphs here on Browser Mark and "Graphics" are impressive as well though obviously we have a TON of missing information to really make the graph meaningful.  Anand puts it well:

Barring any outright deception however, there seems to be potential in Medfield.

I tend to believe that Intel is too smart to misjudge a product to investors, but remember how impressive the initial performance results of Larrabee were for years? 

I am hopeful and excited for Intel's mobility plans in 2012 as other information we have seen looks impressive.  Let's see what CES has to offer.

December 27, 2011 | 09:40 AM - Posted by Anonymous Coward (not verified)

If the intel slides are accurate, that's fantastic, if they can get out smarphones using this stuff within months. Otherwise, even if their claims are true, they're going to be competing with iphone5 and goodness knows what android phones... 4 cores? I don't know. This stuff is only impressive if implemented very quickly.

December 27, 2011 | 10:21 AM - Posted by mark (not verified)

This is great, does nothing but good things for the phone market.

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