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  (Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC)
Intel plans to use its aggressive process development to drive it to market dominance

On Tuesday morning Intel Corp. (INTC) CEO Brian Krzanich and Intel's equally new president Renée James showed off the company's ambitious plans to retain semiconductor leadership.

I. Looking Ahead to 7 nm

"Intel can deliver technologies no other company can [today] to the [semiconductor] market," Mr. Krzanich enthused to the audience at his morning 2013 Intel Developer Forum keynote.

Key to Intel's plans to gain ground in the mobile space (tablets, smartphones)  -- where it continues to struggle -- and to retain leadership in the traditional PC space is an aggressive path of die shrinks, which culminates with an unnamed 7 nanometer chip in 2017.

IDF 2013
[Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

Having delivered a 22 nm architecture refresh earlier this year (Haswell) Mr. Krzanich revealed that the world's first 14 nm consumer chip will be shipping to partners before the end of the year.

Intel blasted analyst skepticism of sub 10 nm die shrinks, putting up a host of analyst comments decrying the technologies Intel is using in today's commercial offerings and financially or logistically unfeasible or limited.

Mr. Krzanich, who joined Intel in 1982 recalls, "[Analysts] have predicted the death of Moore's Law at least once a decade since I joined Intel, but today it is still alive and well."

II. 22 nm Smartphone Atoms are Shipping

On the mobile front, Intel's smartphone-aimed Atom variants continue to trail a bit behind the Core brand desktop/laptop line in feature size (and even the Atom tablet chip line which has been receiving die shrinks somewhat sooner).  

But Intel reveals that it is currently shipping its first 22 nm smartphone chips (core: Silvermont; SoC: ValleyView; chipset: Bay Trail).  It's unclear how soon this OEM stock will reach the consumer inside actual devices, but it's possible that Intel will have a feature size lead in smartphone chips for the first time in some time, given that the smallest smartphone processors are currently built on 28 nm processes.

22 nm Atom
[Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

Mr. Krzanich claims that the jump from 32 nm to 22 nm cut smartphone Atom's power usage in half.

If that's true Intel -- who supports Google Inc.'s (GOOG) ubiquitous Android and long with numerous other lesser used mobile operating systems -- may have one mean performer on its hands. Intel's last generation Medfield Atoms were in many scenarios the fastest chip available, faster than anything Arm Holdings Plc (LON:ARM) and its coalition put out.  However, their battery life was only mediocre, and they struggled to sell OEMs to switch given (reportedly) higher pricing versus ARM chips.

III. Intel Has Big Plans for Mobile Modems

The new ValleyView SoC is the first Intel chip to feature an on-die LTE modem -- a major reason why the company was able to achive such substantial power savings.  Currently that LTE modem only supports so-called "first generation" (data only) LTE, but by the end of the year a new variant will be available that supports "advanced LTE", which carries both data and voice over high speed fourth generation wireless links.

Intel Atom w/ LTE
[Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

Moving ahead in 2014 Intel's major announced mobile effort will be to roll out its carrier aggregation technology, which it's currently finalizing in the lab.  After some hiccups Mr. Krzanich showed the technology using signal optimization to transform a 35 mbps (average) link to 70 mbps.  Intel says that 100 mbps connections should be possible without substantially increasing network congestion or using more power.

All in all Intel's plans look to be enough to keep it competive, although it still must make a compelling case to OEMs to overlook compatibility concerns in the mobile space.

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Monolithic cores no more
By mjv.theory on 9/11/2013 2:50:46 PM , Rating: 1
I suspect the future of "computing" rests with a use specific processor approach: many and various CPU cores, GPU cores and "co-processors", all dynamically allocated to the task(s) at hand. See the Anandtech Exynos 5420 MP article for a foretaste. Samsung, AMD, Qualcomm, Imagination, et al are all going to be heading down this route. The notion, then, that x86 is, or is not, a better general purpose computing solution, becomes a much more difficult question to answer, and perhaps even a question that will fast lose its relevance.

Since process tech probably has a physical limit, then other strategies will have to be sought. For Intel to rely only on their present manufacturing advantage seems risky, so presumably they will end up following a similar "HSA" approach to everyone else. It will still be interesting to see the CISC vs RISC comparison continue to develop over the next few years.

Given the above, its seems quite unlikely that M$ could ride an Windows-on-x86 train to mobile supremacy. Linux, Android, OSX, iOS and ironically Windows Phone (and even WinRT) have shown that Windows is neither the only nor necessarily the best game in town. I find it more likely that Windows (and OSX for that matter) will be gradually absorbed into a converged and mobile centric computing environment, where the "desktop" is an extension of mobile and cloud, rather than the other way round.

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