Intel announces new Atom processors at Mobile World Conference

Can these processors get the mobile division on track?


Intel has pretty much spun its wheels in the mobile world, but it’s not giving up. At the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, it unveiled a new generation of processors and announced security partnerships with a variety of firms.

First up was the Atom x3 processor series, which has been codenamed SoFIA (which stood for "Smart or Feature phone with Intel Architecture"). These chips are aimed at low-cost smartphones, phablets and tablets. Intel claims 20 customers committed to deliver products with the x3 series.

The Atom x3 is a SoC with both the processor and baseband chip on one piece of silicon. Intel is offering three processors -- a dual-core, 1GHz CPU with a 3G modem, a quad-core, 1.2GHz CPU and 3G modem (made by partner Rockchip), and a quad-core 1.4GHz CPU with 4G modem. Instead of using its own GPU technology, Intel is using ARM's Mali GPU cores and is built on the older 28nm manufacturing process.

Moving up the food chain is the Atom x5 and x7 processor series for mainstream and premium tablets plus small 2-in-1 devices. These chips were codenamed Cherry Trail and are a die shrink from the Bay Trail processor. It’s a 64-bit design with the latest Intel graphics and LTE-Advanced, but initial benchmarks show Cherry Trail is at best 5-8% better than Bay Trail. That's typical for a die shrink since the microarchitecture doesn't change.

The x5 and x7, while not terribly competitive with the latest from Qualcomm and other ARM chipmakers, nonetheless has an opportunity in low-end phones, and that's where the real mass market it. While we obsess over Galaxy 6 vs iPhone, the mass market worldwide is still for cheap feature phones. The x5/x7 are cheaper chips, which allows for making more capable feature phone handsets that still cost next to nothing, and that will be its advantage.

Just as important but not as sexy is the five-mode Intel XMM 7360 LTE Advanced solution for worldwide LTE coverage. The XMM 7360 is Intel's standalone baseband modem and supports Cat-10 LTE with peak speeds of 450Mbps. The previous chip, the XMM 7260, was a Cat-6 with peak speeds of 300Mbps.

Intel also noted that the new Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge will have Intel's McAfee VirusScan Mobile technology built into and activated on their devices. The Android platform has become a major target for malware, so it needs antivirus badly.

One Intel demo I'd love to learn more about is a demo of a pre-5G concept system that combines LTE with 802.11ad to deliver speeds of more than 1 Gbps using Intel technology end-to-end. That's child's play compared to one researcher in England that hit 1Tb per second. 5G is still very much in its early stages; Reuters says 5G won't see deployment until 2020, so it will likely undergo a lot of changes between now and then.

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