Intel @ MWC 2011: Atom-Based Medfield SoC Now Sampling, Low-Power LTE Modems In 2012by Ryan Smith on February 14, 2011 8:00 AM EST
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- MWC 2011
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Though we still like to think of Intel first and foremost as a computer CPU company, the fact of the matter is the company is trying its hardest to expand their horizons. Among their expansion efforts are a push in to the smartphone space, and to further that Intel is at Mobile World Congress 2011 making their latest smartphone-related announcements.
The first announcement, and of course the one nearest and dearest to our hearts, is on the CPU side of things. Medfield – Intel’s next-generation Atom-based smartphone SoC is now sampling and will ship later this year. Intel still hasn’t thrown out a solid timeframe for when Medfield will ship, but Q4 is as good a guess as you’re going to get.
Medfield is the follow-up to Moorestown, Intel’s first Atom smartphone-sized SoC design that was launched only 9 months ago, and did not ship until the later half of last year. Moorestown has not had any major design wins, so while it’s out there you probably never have and never will see a Moorestown powered smartphone. As Intel’s first foray in to smartphone SoCs Moorestown had its teething issues – the principle platform was a 2 chip family, with only the Z6xx CPU + GPU + MC manufactured in-house at 45nm, while the MP20 PCH containing the camera, audio, I/O, and other supporting hardware was a 65nm product manufactured at TSMC.
The importance of Medfield in Intel’s product lineup is that it should resolve Moorestown’s teething issues. The CPU and PCH are being integrated on to a single chip, and the entire product is being built on Intel’s 32nm process, which will allow handset makers to more easily fit Medfield in to phones thanks to the reduced chip count. Architecturally Medfield is not a significant overhaul – we’re still looking at a power optimized in-order Atom – but a die shrink for the CPU and effectively two die shrinks for the PCH should go a long way towards increasing performance; the last thing we heard in this respect is that GPU performance should double, while CPU performance has not been commented on. In any case at 32nm by the end of this year, Intel will have a process advantage over its SoC competition, who will still be on 4Xnm until they transition to 28nm some time next year.
Of course Medfield is not an entire smartphone on its own. Additional supporting chips – chiefly a modem – are necessary. As you may recall, Intel picked up Infineon’s wireless solutions business back in August of 2010, giving them modem technology to go with their Atom SoCs. Down the line we’ll see Infineon-derived modems integrated in to Atom SoCs, but for now Intel is still using separate modems developed by the new Intel Mobile Communications group, which is the basis of the other major piece of news coming from Intel today.
Intel announced their first compact, low-power multi-mode LTE modem (LTE/3G/2G), the XMM 7060 platform, powered by the X-GOLD 706 baseband processor. It will begin sampling in Q3 this year, and will ship roughly a year later in H2 of 2012. The multi-mode modem is important both for Intel and for Infineon’s traditional customers. For Intel it’s something to sell alongside Medfield, while for customers after just the modem it’s going to be among the first low-power LTE modems on the market. With the additional complexity of LTE, LTE modems had to be similarly beefed up compared to their 3G brethren, which in turn can hurt battery life. Low-power modems should bring power consumption back in balance with today’s 3G modems.
On a side note, given that Intel only recently acquired Infineon's wireless group, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that the X-GOLD 706 is being fabbed out of house. Intel says it will be a 40nm product, which means it's likely being fabbed over at TSMC.
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DanNeely - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkUnlike other SoC's Moorestown didn't support attaching the ram chip on top of the CPU, and the interface with various other peripherals (eg camera, touch screen) was in a separate chip (Briertown) as well, leaving Intel with 4 chips on the PCB (CPU, PCH, Ram, mixed signals) where almost all of their competition had only one. Medfield will be integrating the PCH, but what about the other 2?
IntelUser2000 - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkThe mixed signal chip, Briertown is a power management unit too, so its not that behind the other SoCs.
DanNeely - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkHow common is it as a separate chip? Annand's Moorestown coverage when it was first released counted it being a separate chip as a liability; and you're the first person I've seen claiming otherwise.
IntelUser2000 - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkI've heard it was nearly always seperate. Usually the PMIC is one of the smaller chips and is more complicated to integrate so they don't.
Since I can't link search for these chips:
iPhone 4: Dialog D1815A Power Management IC
HTC Surround: Qualcomm PM7540 power management IC
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Maxim 8998
Even the iPod Nano has one: Apple 338S0783-B1 10298HLS
Go to iFixit and read the teardown articles.
If every article mentioned every chip there would be something that numbers close to a dozen even on a smartphone, but they tend to be insignificant so its ignored.
bplewis24 - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkRyan, in Anand's Qualcomm/Krait announcement, he mentions that Qualcomm claims they will be launching a 28nm SoC in a "couple of months." To be fair, he does seem skeptical of that claim.
Here, you suggest all of the SoC competition will be behind Intel's 32nm process until next year. How are we to reconcile the two conflicting statements?
DanNeely - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkAnand said it would be sampling in Q211 and available about a year later. sampling means low volume test production only, Intel is already sampling Medfield and intends to be shipping it later this year. Assuming Anand and Ryan's guess about when the chips will become available intel will have the lead in Q4 2011 and Q1 2012.
bplewis24 - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkThanks. While I did not have an indication of what "sampling" was, I still clearly missed the part about it being in devices a year later. My fault.
mczak - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkBoth memory controller and gpu moved to cpu for moorestown, mp20 only handles i/o stuff - this was different with z5xx where the chipset was home of the gpu and MC.
So it's only one shrink for the gpu for medfield.
Ryan Smith - Monday, February 14, 2011 - linkYou're right, thanks for catching that.
(ｐｐｓｈｏｐｐｉｎｇ) - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - linkwelcome