Intel Launches Atom CPU For Smartphones

The Z6 low-power processor was released alongside Intel's Moorestown smartphone platform.
Intel on Wednesday released its most power-efficient Atom processor, which the chipmaker is hoping will give it a foothold in the fast-growing smartphone market.

Before the introduction of the Z6, the Atom family of CPUs used too much power to be useful in mobile devices smaller than netbooks, the inexpensive mini-laptops that were the fastest-growing PC category last year. With the latest processor, Intel claims it's ready to take on makers of ARM processors, which dominate the smartphone market today.

"Intel has delivered its first product that is opening the door for Intel architecture in the smartphone market segment," Anand Chandrasekher, senior VP and general manager of Intel's ultra mobility group.

However, missing from Intel's announcement are smartphone makers committed to using the Atom Z6, which was released along with Intel's smartphone platform, formerly codenamed Moorestown. Intel partners to date include Nokia and LG Electronics and the chipmaker has promised to announce more in the future.

The Atom Z6, formerly codenamed Lincroft, is at the heart of Moorestown, which also includes the MP20 controller hub that supports a range of system-level functions and a mixed signal integrated circuit that combines power delivery and battery charging and consolidates a range of analog and digital components. The Atom CPU is built using Intel's 45-nanometer manufacturing process.

Intel is claiming the platform consumes far less power than the previous generation used primarily in netbooks. The comparisons include 50 times less energy consumption when a device is idle, 20 times less power when playing audio, and two to three times less energy when Web browsing or playing video. These numbers translate into 10 days of battery life when a device is idle, up to two days of audio playback, and four to five hours of browsing and video, according to Intel.

Along with lower power consumption, Intel is also claiming much higher performance, including as much as three times the computing power and up to four times the speed in graphics rendering. The platform also supports high-definition 1080p video decoding and 720p video recording.

Intel has reduced the "ultra-low-power states" of the Atom Z6 to 100 microwatts, which the company hopes is low enough to be attractive to smartphone makers. In addition, the company has introduced, at the platform level, software that manages idle and active power states across all components of the system based on what's being used on a given task.

The Atom Z6-based platform is available as of Wednesday. The new product supports clock speeds up to 1.5 GHz for high-end smartphones and up to 1.9 GHz for slate computers, an example of which is the recently released Apple iPad, and other mobile-device designs. The platform supports Wi-Fi, 3G, and WiMax wireless technologies.

Supported operating systems include Google's Android, MeeGo, and Moblin. MeeGo is a Linux-based OS developed by Intel and Nokia. Moblin is Intel's Linux-based OS for netbooks.

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