Intel Introduces First System on a Chip
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As promised, Intel has jumped into the System-on-Chip (SoC) market with a series of announcements based around both the Atom processor and a new family, built on the Pentium M chip.
The company has 15 SoC projects in its pipeline, aimed at large and small form factors alike, from handheld devices and mobile Internet devices (MIDs) to cars to servers, all of them considered new, growth markets, according to Gadi Singer, general manager of Intel's SoC enabling group.
Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) sees its greatest opportunities in the mobile Internet space and in emerging markets. Singer predicted the Internet will have 1.2 billion users by 2012 and people will expect Internet connectivity wherever they go, said Singer. But mature markets want their Internet, too, having grown up with constant access.
"New devices need to be powerful, responsive, but in a small form factor," he told a briefing of journalists. "This puts a lot of pressure on the silicon to support this."
The company's first SoC product is the EP80579, a four-on-one chip based on the Pentium M processor design with memory controller, I/O controller and a set of integrated application-specific accelerators on a single chip. Doug Davis, vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group and general manager of the Embedded and Communications group, said Intel used the Pentium M because that's what it had available at the time development began and it met its needs.
According to Davis, the chip will be 45 percent smaller than if the four chips were installed separately on a motherboard and consume 34 percent less power as a whole rather than as four separate pieces.
The EP80579 will consume 11 to 21 watts, depending on clock speed, and run between 600MHz and 1.2GHz. To satisfy industrial requirements, the company has announced a seven-year support life cycle.
Another chip, the EP80579, is for the embedded market. The next generation will be based on Atom instead of Pentium M, hardly a problem since Atom is also based on the Intel Architecture (IA) instruction set. The next generation of the MID processor line will be Lincroft, due next year, featuring a tenfold reduction in power consumption over the current line of chips.
For consumer electronics (CE), the company plans to release a chip code-named Canmore later this year, followed by Sodaville next year. Intel did not go into detail beyond saying that the chips would be tuned for consumer electronics devices, such as bringing the Internet to the television.
IDC analyst Shane Rau said this is a big change for Intel. "These are very highly integrated processors, he told InternetNews.com. "Intel is known for stand-alone processors," he said. "What's different about these is there's a system on a chip. So Intel is prepared to introduce pieces of silicon that are app-specific."
This reflects Intel's desire to look for every way possible to expand, and the way it expands is by finding new markets to enter. "It's the PC market looking to redeploy its technologies into new markets," he said.