Intel unveils Quark, Bay Trail and 14nm Broadwell
September 11, 2013 // 9:15 a.m.
Intel's annual Developer Forum kicked off last night with a keynote speech from new chief executive Brian Krzanich, featuring as its highlights the first demonstration of a 14nm part and the announcement of the Quark chip for embedded platforms.
Taking the keynote stage at the IDF in San Francisco for the first time as chief executive, Krzanich outlined his plans for Intel's future growth. 'Innovation and industry transformation are happening more rapidly than ever before, which play to Intel’s strengths,' he told the audience. 'We have the manufacturing technology leadership and architectural tools in place to push further into lower power regimes. We plan to shape and lead in all areas of computing.'
The keynote may have described the company's aims in, as Krzanich claims, all areas of computing, but the company's renewed focus on extremely low-power parts, system-on-chip (SoC) designs and the embedded market was clear to see. Krzanich confirmed the impending launch of Bay Trail, a 22nm SoC designed primarily for tablets and hybrid devices but with a view to powering future form factors as well. 'Smartphones and tablets are not the end-state,' he claimed. 'The next wave of computing is still being defined. Wearable computers and sophisticated sensors and robotics are only some of the initial applications.'
Krzanich also demonstrated the first officially public example of a Broadwell device. Taking the form of a laptop, the Broadwell system featured a 14nm chip which, Intel claims, is ready to head into mass production by the end of the year. The process shrink will bring improved performance, reduced power draw and the promise of passively-cooled fan-free models of Core i3 and Core i5 chips.
The big surprise of the keynote, however, was the Quark. An extremely low-power processor design, the Quark is taking aim firmly at the embedded computing market with a focus on beating ARM microprocessors and even dedicated microcontrollers from the like of Atmel and Texas Instruments. The Quark, Krzanich explained, will have as its focus areas of computing where traditional processors are ill-suited, including Internet of Things (IoT) sensor networks, wearable computing systems and even in-body medical devices. To prove his company's focus, Krzanich even demonstrated a wearable computing device in the form of a bracelet - which, he claimed, will turn into a reference design in due course.
The Quark family are SoC designs, boasting a core footprint one-fifth the size of Intel's Silvermont Atom parts and a power draw around 90 per cent lower. As you might expect from Intel, the chip is based on a subset of the x86 architecture - specifically, the Pentium instruction set architecture - and will initially, interestingly, be produced on a 32nm process node. This will, naturally, drop in-line with the company's natural production progression.
The most interesting feature of the Quark isn't found in the hardware: Krzanich also announced that the part would be 'fully synthesisable,' meaning, like ARM's IP-based offerings, the chip can be customised. Unlike ARM, however, Intel has no plans to allow third parties to build their own Quark parts under licence. 'If companies have their own IP then we can support them,' Krzanich claimed, before admitting that Quark manufacturing will be an exclusive Intel preserve.
Other highlights of the speech included the demonstration of Intel's next-generation Merrifield Atom SoC running alongside an XMM 7160 Long Term Evolution (LTE) modem ahead of its launch in 2014, second-generation 64-bit Atom C2000 parts for microservers, refreshed Xeon E5-2600 v2 chips and a promise from Intel President Renée James that Intel will continue to focus on high-performance computing (HPC) and supercomputer markets even as it enters into a bitter battle with ARM at the embedded end of the market.