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Intel Targets Smartphones With Moorestown

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Intel on Monday outlined details for its next-generation Atom system-on-a-chip (SoC) architecture, codenamed "Moorestown," which will open the chip up to whole new markets where Atom previously did not play, such as the fast-growing smartphone sector.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of the Atom in its first iteration, deploying the processor to a whole new breed of devices known as netbooks, as well as handheld devices called mobile Internet devices (MIDs). Atom represents the x86 architecture at its most spare design, with one core, very little cache and relatively low clock speeds.

For Moorestown, Intel is going even lower. In a presentation here at the 21st annual Hot Chips conference on the campus of Stanford University, Rajesh Patel, lead architect for the Lincroft system-on-chip at Intel, said that Mooretown would be half the physical size of its predecessor, draw half as much power while in use, and use as much as 50 times less power in an idle state.

This efficiency is gained by using a "low leakage SoC" that partitions the chip into segments, or "islands," where they can be powered down when not in use. This would make it ideal for smartphones, where low power drain during stand-by time is crucial, as iPhone owners have learned.

"In the high-end smartphone segment, you want to have long stand-by time," Patel told InternetNews.com after his presentation. "That is the primary new market we are pursuing. In addition, all of the markets we are pursuing with Menlow – entertainment devices, navigation devices, gaming devices, enterprise segments, future PDAs -- those become more compelling because you deliver ... roughly same performance at much lower power, which translates to longer battery life."

Juggling codenames can be a bit of a challenge. Moorestown is a chip platform consisting of two pieces: the Atom processor, codenamed "Lincroft," and the chipset, codenamed "Langwell." Lincroft is an SoC design that includes graphics, an integrated memory controller and other I/O components on a single chip.

That said, Lincroft will be capable of some decent performance, if it lives up to Intel's billing. Its graphics processor will support both 2D and 3D graphics. It also features a Hyper threading technology comparable to what's in the new Nehalem processors, and there are bus and burst mode technologies for needed speed.

Patel did not say which operating systems would be supported by Moorestown. Presently, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is crowing about the ability to run Windows 7 on a netbook, using the Atom Z (a.k.a. "Silverthorn") processor, while Intel has a separate operating system program, called Moblin.

Moorestown is due either late this year or early next year, but Intel already dropped the name of its successor: "Medfield." It is slated to debut in 2011 with an even smaller board size and lower power draw. Intel will make further announcements around the Atom line, such as the "Pine Trail" Atom for netbooks, along with further Moorestown discussions at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco scheduled to run from Sept. 22 to 24.