Intel’s mobile strategy has been full of setbacks and frustrations, resulting in just a handful of mobile products over the past few years. However, things could be set to change next year, as Intel has adjusted its focus to the lower cost end of the market.
Yesterday Intel announced that it has entered into a strategic agreement with Rockchip, to accelerate the rollout of its Atom processor architecture for entry level Android tablets. This is a pretty important announcement, as Rockchip will become the first company to have effectively licensed Intel’s x86 CPU IP for use in a SoC. However, the new chips will still fall under the Intel brand name.
Rockchip, a fabless semiconductor company based in China, currently designs a range of ARM based mobile SoCs. Rockchip will be using its existing experience with mobile SoCs to design a quad-core 3G integrated SoC for Intel.
This new chip will fit into the upcoming entry level SoFIA line-up of integrated Intel Atom processors. The SoFIA range is set to offer Intel’s first Atom/modem integrated SoCs, much like what Qualcomm is already offering with its Snapdragon processors. Integrated packages should help solve one of Intel’s biggest entry barriers in the smartphone market.
However, the Chinese market, a key region where Intel is targeting SoFIA, does not seem to think much of dual-core processors these days. Market research suggests that Intel needs a quad-core 3G chip to have any sort of impact on the Chinese market, which is where the arrangement with Rockchip comes in. As you would expect, the quad-core 3G SoC will be priced in between the dual-core SoFIA 3G and the quad-core SoFIA LTE options. The final product will then be fabbed at TSMC, along with the rest of the SoFIA line-up.
“The combination of Intel’s leading architecture and modem technology with our leading mobile design capability brings greater choice to the growing global market for mobile devices in the entry and value segments.” Min Li, Rockchip CEO.
By partnering up with Rockchip, Intel will be leveraging Rockchip’s design expertise and established industry connections to bring a low cost SoC platform into the Chinese market quickly. The expectation is that these chips will end up in sub-$150 Android devices, and should ship in the first half of 2015. The dual-core 3G version is expected to appear towards the end of this year, with the quad-core SoFIA LTE chip expected to arrive sometime in the middle of 2015.
Although the press release only mentions a single SoFIA chip, there’s the possibility of further strategic collaborations between the two companies in the future as well. Whilst these new SoFIA chips won’t be heading to our high-end smartphones, it signals a much needed change of intent in Intel’s mobile market strategy.