The sleeping giant has awoken

Intel is no longer content with being just in desktops, netbooks (dead), laptops, servers, and now ultrabooks, it would seem. In the mobile  space, be it Motorola, HTC, Samsung or Sony, there’s a 98% chance that the microprocessor inside is of the ARM variety. And this counts for iPhones and iPads, too. In just a short amount of time, Intel will be bringing to market a new mobile chip, dubbed Medfield, that, they claim, will give existing Android super devices and the iPhone a serious run for their money.

These are Intel's figures, of course.

Intel has earned a bit of a reputation for creating chips that, while powerful, are also quite power hungry. On the other hand, ARM’s designs have proven to be quite efficient in conserving power, but still able to provide the responsiveness and performance we all demand from our mobile devices, today.

So, what does this mean? While it’s too early to say whether or not Intel’s offerings will make a huge impact on the market, I would hazard a guess that they are not going to bring to market anything lackluster.

The real question is – does Intel have what it takes to bring a compelling offering to the mobile space?

If you’ve observed their track record over the past few years, they’ve created all sorts of road-maps and plans, and none have stuck. There is no question about it – Intel faces a huge uphill battle in the mobile space. And there isn’t just one other company either – we’re talking ARM, Qualcomm, TI, Nvidia with it’s new quad-core Tegra 3 SoC (based off ARM, too), Samsung, and even Apple are all involved in mobile chips. Does Intel have what it takes to beat them all?

Most recently, Technology Review, the esteemed publication coming out of MIT had the opportunity to test prototype smartphones and tablets packing Intel’s latest mobile technology, running Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread. and is said to have performed like a champ.  “We expect products based on these to be announced in the first half of 2012,” says Stephen Smith, vice president of Intel’s architecture group.

More importantly the prototypes they had on display were blazing fast. While little is currently known about the technology behind them, we do know that they had to replicate ARM’s designs in order to get there, and more on this below. Intel’s processors have always been notoriously power hungry, and this marks a big step in the right direction for the massive company. Some of the reps that met with Technology Review were also dropping hints that the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January could also bring news of gadgets in which Intel’s chips will appear.

Great artists steal

While these new chips represent a serious step in the right direction, from what is known at this stage, they are by no means a quantum leap forward. Rather, it appears that Intel has replicated something ARM has been doing for years; that is, combining core functions of its processor design into one chunk of silicon. This all in one design, known as an SoC, or System on a Chip, is what ARM has been doing for a long time.

According to those that had time with the device, the phone itself was very powerful, and a joy to use. What’s more is that it was on par with the best devices in the Android world, which is a huge achievement. It could play Blu-Ray-quality video and stream it to a TV if desired, Web browsing was smooth and fast. Smith says Intel has built circuits into the Medfield chip specifically to speed up Android apps and Web browsing.

And so, what does this mean for you right now? Nothing. But, for those that like to keep a keen eye on the future, it looks like competition will be heating up a notch further, which can only mean good things for consumers. Intel revolutionized computing year after year in the race to provide the fastest micro processor, and it looks like they are pulling out all the stops here. What remains to be seen is what everyone will be looking at – battery life and overall efficiency. If they make an SoC that is faster than anything on any Android or any iPhone but only lasts a few hours in actual usage, then they might as well get back to the lab. If, and I say if with major emphasis, they actually produce an innovative, efficient, and snappy reference design that is competitive with what ARM is working on, then we’re in for a heck of a ride.

And finally, Google and Intel have been working for some time now, optimizing Android for Intel’s latest wares. With this in mind, I think it’s likely we can expect something mildly excited from the microprocessor giant Intel at CES, and we’ll be their covering it live! Stay tuned.

Via Technology Review

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