The mobile Internet has been the next big thing for a decade. And while companies such as Nokia and Apple have made great strides with the N-series devices and the iPhone, these gadgets still don’t perform as well as computers. For instance, popular sites such as MySpace and YouTube can take tens of seconds to completely load on these devices, and when they do, they sometimes don’t work correctly or look right.
The problem with these gadgets, says Vijay Krishnan, a director in Intel’s ultramobile group, is their microprocessor. His company’s solution is a brand new lineup of small, low-power chips that play well with websites and are also designed to run media, including high-definition content. The chip line, called Atom, which was first announced in March, was displayed last week at Intel’s Developer Forum in Shanghai. Company executives showed off slick-looking gadgets, called mobile internet devices (MIDs), that are expected to hit the market by the middle of the year.
To build the new chips, Krishnan says, Intel focused on power consumption. The dual-core chips in today’s laptops use up to 35 watts. The Atom line, which will offer roughly the same performance as a typical chip in a four-year-old laptop, uses three watts or less. Krishnan explains that one way this is achieved is by creating six separate power states for the chip. Depending on how the device is being used, the voltage the processor uses and clock speed of its components can be varied, while certain components , such as memory cache, can be turned off when not in use. “When we use all of these power states,” he says, “we’re able to keep the average power on chips to 160 to 220 milliwatts.” These low power requirements can noticeably extend battery life, he says.
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.