Medfield: Intel’s Smartphone Processor…

Intel’s Medfield processor is a brand new flavor for Intel. Designed from the ground up for the extremely low power requirements of the Smartphone world. Intel hopes Medfield will go places they have never been, in our pockets. Intel has undoubtedly dominated the desktop computer for 30 years but they have consistently failed – had their butts kicked – in the low power world, smart phones and tablets included. The current leader of low power processors is the ARM processor. Designed in England and manufactured by many companies these processors can be found in every smartphone and 99% of tablets. Look out ARM Intel is gunning for your market.

For Midfield Intel has pulled out all the stops and is finally working in the right direction when it comes to low power. Starting with a notebook processor and altering it for ultra low power could be considered working top down, this time Intel has worked bottom up. Starting with the design of each type of transistor, optimizing each to stop current leakage, wasted power that is converted to heat. Working their way up the design ladder the chip itself integrates a new design strategy, System On A Chip. SoC is a process of integrating as much of a system onto one chip. Intel didn’t stop there, with their sights set on the Smartphone world they have built in technology to accelerate common android functions.

Medfield is part of Intel’s fourth generation ultra low power platform, classified as processors for Mobile Information Devices – MID or Ultra Low Power Devices -. This latest update from Intel is internally designated the ‘Cedar Trail’ platform. The Medfield chips will join other 32nm Cedar Trail processors such as the already available Atom 2700 at the very bottom of the power tree. Designed to be Über power misers the Midfield chips will be the first SoC processors from Intel. Processors that integrate graphics, general I/O, memory controller, SATA and PCI. All integrated onto the one piece of silicon, reducing both the cost and power requirements of the chip.

Power usage is king in the smartphone market. A high end desktop processor can use 125 watts of power, by itself. High end gaming system easily use over 700 watts of power. A fast laptop can use over 200 watts of power, even netbooks will use between 10 and 20 watts of juice. The entire chip-set and processor for a smart phone must use 500milliwatts, half a watt. Most desktop processors can’t do this in standby mode. Intel’s new Medfield has pushed into the sub watt territory and may finally let Intel compete in the Smart Phone market.

All reports of speed seem to indicate the early silicon is already fast and running Android 4, Ice Cream Sandwich. This isn’t an ARM processor either, this is a full x86 Smartphone processor that could just as easily run Windows and Office than it can make a call. Eventually adding an external screen and keyboard could turn the Medfield into an office in your pocket.

The fact Intel’s new baby has been shown off in the arms of Android instead of Microsoft’s Windows 8 probably has more to do with who Intel sees as its competition in this segment – Apple, Samsung, HTC – rather than being a message to Microsoft. Still it does have that cold shoulder feeling.

Intel’s reference design already has people talking with a number of stand out functions. The burst mode 8 megapixel camera can snap at up to 15 frames a second, snappy. Full HD Blu-ray playback is smooth and can be streamed to your TV. A reference design 10″ tablet has also been seen in testing, using the same chip-set and also running Android 4.

Intel has tried low power, ow they have tried. Like a thorn in the King Lions paw low power has always just been that little bit out of reach. Since being established in 2006 the MID program has helped Intel push their processors into the low power device market.

While Intel may have come a long way in the last few years the competition hasn’t been standing still. The latest generation tablets and smart phones are using extremely quick quad core ARM processors. The ASUS Transformer for example uses NVIDIA’s quad core ARM processor along with it’s best low power graphics technology. It’s unlikely the new processor from Intel will keep pace with this latest generation ARM processor.

A few lucky people around the world have previewed what could be Intel’s biggest surprise in 2012, a working and practical Intel Smartphone. It may take them a while to get the performance right but ARM should be paying attention, Intel may just have a foot in the door. As with everything this time of year the first public demonstrations of the Intel Smartphone and Tablet will be at CES 2012. Expect back rooms to be filled with private demonstrations of Intel’s new flight of fancy, the Intel Smartphone.

Source: Technology Review