Intel teases 22nm tri-gate Atom system-on-chip parts

February 25, 2013 // 11:04 a.m.

Tags: #22nm #arm #atom #clovertrail #clover-trail #cortex-a15 #exynos #exynos-5-octa #intel #merrifield #nvidia #smartphone #soc #system-on-chip #tablet #tegra-4 #z2520 #z2560 #z2580

Intel has promised to launch third-generation 22nm Atom system-on-chip (SoC) processors by the end of the year, even as it announces the first shipments of Clover Trail+ dual-core chips.

Announced at the Mobile World Congress event today, Intel's new Atom Z2580, Z2560 and Z2520 system-on-chip processors offer dual 32nm processing cores running at 2GHz, 1.6GHz and 1.2GHz respectively, with support for Hyper-Threading to bring the total simultaneous processes count up to four - helping the chip maker compete with the current raft of quad-core ARM processors that dominate the smartphone and tablet market. The graphics engine, too, gets an overhaul, with the Intel GMA now boasting 533MHz core frequency in Turbo Boost conditions and a claimed three-fold performance boost over last-generation Atom SoC parts.

'Our second-generation product delivers double the compute performance and up to three times the graphics capabilities, all while maintaining competitive low power,' claimed Intel's Hermann Eul at the event, somewhat disingenuously equating "double the cores" with "double the compute performance." Even so, it's an impressive platform with extra features such as support for 16 megapixel image sensors, burst-mode capabilities capturing eight megapixel images at 15 frames per second, and enhanced high-dynamic range (HDR) capabilities - something Nvidia's rival Tegra 4 SoC is also promising.

The first product to include the new Atom parts will be Lenovo's top-end IdeaPhone K900, which packs the full-fat 2GHz Atom K2580 behind its 5.5in high-resolution display. Further products have been promised from Asus and ZTE, with Intel hinting heavily that it will be powering Android tablets and phones in the near future.

The real story, however, was in the product to follow Clover Trail+: Merrifield. 'As we transition to 22nm Atom SoCs later this year,' Eul teased, 'we will take full advantage of the broad spectrum of capabilities enabled by our design, architecture, 22nm tri-gate transistor technology, and leading-edge manufacturing to further accelerate our position.' While Eul wouldn't be pushed on a precise schedule or specifications, the use of tri-gate transistors and a process shrink will help boost performance while dropping battery draw - something Intel needs to continue in its fight against Cambridge chip design giant ARM.

Intel will have a long road ahead of it, however: ARM architecture processors remain the chips of choice for the mobile industry, and that is unlikely to change in the near future - tri-gate transistors or no tri-gate transistors. With mobile developers working on ARM-compatible packages first and considering x86 compatibility a distant second - if at all, with many Android apps still refusing to install on an Atom-based device - Intel faces something of a Catch 22 scenario as it attempts to convince more manufacturers to adopt the chip and more developers to support the x86 instruction set in mobile hardware.

No release date for Merrifield parts has been provided, with Intel merely stating that production begins later this year - meaning the first Merrifield-equipped hardware likely won't hit shop shelves until the second half of 2014, when ARM Cortex-A15 hardware like Nvidia's Tegra 4 and Samsung's Exynos 5 Octa eight-core chip will likely be well established.
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