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2/16/2011
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Intel Ships Samples Of Medfield Smartphone Chip

Mounting a serious challenge to ARM, Intel plans to begin mass production of the 32-nm processor later this year.

Intel says it has started production of its Medfield smartphone processor and is sending samples to phone manufacturers.

The chipmaker made the announcement Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress, where it also introduced mobile communications chips for phones. Medfield is Intel's second smartphone processor. The first, Moorestown, did not have much success in the market due to power consumption too high for smartphones. Medfield and Moorestown are based on Intel's Atom processor.

Medfield, which is built on the company's latest 32-nanometer manufacturing process, is expected to be better equipped for smartphones. Smaller in size and consuming less power than the 45-nm Moorestown, the new chip is expected to enter mass production later in the year. Intel has said Medfield-powered smartphones will hit the market this year. The company has not named the manufacturers.

Intel dominates the processor market for PCs, but is playing catch up in the smartphone market, which is ruled today by processors based on the designs of ARM Holdings in the U.K. ARM processors are used by all the major smartphone makers, including Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, Research In Motion, and others.

Intel's biggest advantage over ARM is in manufacturing. Intel is expected to move to a 22-nm manufacturing process next year, which is when ARM is headed to where Intel is today -- 32 nm. Size matters because reducing the size of circuitry on a chip boosts performance and lowers power consumption. Therefore, Intel in time could produce a higher performing chip that's less expensive than ARM's. But to do that, some analysts believe, Intel may have to abandon its legacy x86 microarchitecture. In the meantime, ARM is expected to stay on top at least this year and next year.

Intel also announced at MWC that it would start shipping samples in the second half of the year of a low-power multi-mode communications chip. The new product will support LTE, a fourth generation, high-speed network technology currently being deployed by carriers, as well as older 3G and 2G technologies. Intel expects to make the chip widely available in the second half of next year.

The LTE chip stems from Intel's acquisition last month of Infineon Technologies' Wireless Solutions business. Intel's strengths in communications before the acquisition was in Wi-Fi and 4G WiMax chips. The acquisition added 2G, 3G and 4G LTE technologies.

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