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Smartphones get an Atom option

Intel brings the fight to ARM
For chip enthusiasts and smartphone fans, the biggest news of CES came from Intel: the release of a new Atom processor designed to take the fight directly to ARM's door.

For years, ARM has been the architecture of choice for smartphone makers: its low power draw, relatively high performance and system-on-chip design - which reduces overall component size and complexity, an important consideration for smartphones - make a compelling argument. Since giving up its own ARM licence - used to produce the XScale range of chips - Intel hasn't really had a look-in.

Intel's Atom Z2460 Reference Platform
Intel's Atom-powered smartphone reference platform

Until now, that is: the first Medfield-based Atom was unveiled at CES, taking the form of the Atom Z2460. Using the same system-on-chip design as ARM processors, the Atom Z2460 - codenamed 'Penwell' - packs a single 32nm 1.6GHz Atom processing core, 512KB of Intel SmartCache and a PowerVR SGX 540 GPU running at 400MHz into a 12x12mm package-on-package.

While the fact that the chip is single-core will come as a disappointment to some, that one core is blazingly fast: benchmarks carried out by AnandTech show it zipping through the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark faster than any other phone on the market, including Apple's iPhone 4S and Samsung's Galaxy Nexus; both ARM-based devices.

Intel Atom Z2460 Block Diagram
It's only single core, but the Z2460 boasts impressive performance

With a claimed power draw of just 1W during web browsing, Intel could finally have something to offer serious competition to ARM; and it's already signed up Lenovo, which is to release a variant of Intel's reference platform smartphone design in China, and Motorola, which will be partnering with Intel on a range of Atom-based devices due towards the end of the year.