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Intel Bets on Small Devices

The chip maker is pushing its products into smart phones.
April 10, 2009

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Beijing on Wednesday, Intel outlined a plan to put its low-power chip, called Atom, in ever smaller gadgets. Atom, released a year ago, initially targeted netbooks and mobile-Internet devices (MIDs) because of its minimal power requirements. But at IDF, Intel released plans for two new Atom chips and gave a demonstration of Moorestown, a chip package built around Atom that could start to show up in smart phones in 2010.

One of the new Atom processors, dubbed Z550, will run as fast as a two-gigahertz chip but use less than three watts of power, the company claims. Another Atom chip, the Z515, can handle speeds of 1.2 gigahertz but will use Intel’s “Burst Performance Technology,” in which the chip will experience surges of processing power based on the tasks that it needs to perform.

Earlier this year, Intel and LG Electronics announced that they would offer the first smart phone that uses Moorestown in 2010. This isn’t the first time that Intel has tried to break into the mobile market. But until now, ARM, the leading mobile-chip company, has maintained its dominance.

One advantage for ARM has been that it licenses its designs to chip foundries. This enables significant flexibility in the types of chips that are produced, so that they can be optimized for a given handset manufacturer. Intel, however, has always held its designs close, an approach that has made it more challenging to optimize Atom for so many different products.

Intel’s position has recently changed, however. In March, it announced a partnership with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing under which Intel will license its technology to the foundry–a first for the chip giant. The partnership combines the world’s biggest foundry and the world’s largest semiconductor company. Both companies hope that it can extend their reach into mobile phones and MIDs.

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