Intel Revamps Its System-On-Chip Designs

The first batch of products is under the Intel EP80579 Integrated Processor line for industrial robotics and for security, storage, and communication devices.
Intel on Thursday is expected to introduce the first products of a new generation of system-on-a-chip designs that will target several markets, including consumer electronics, mobile Internet devices, and embedded systems.

The first batch of products is under the Intel EP80579 Integrated Processor line for industrial robotics and for security, storage, and communication devices. The system-on-a-chip (SoC) products are based on the Pentium M processor. Intel plans to base future SoC hardware on its Atom processor, which was released this year for low-power mobile Internet devices.

The new products each contain four chips -- a CPU core, memory controller, input/output controller, and acceleration technology -- integrated into one system. Intel claims the SoCs are 45% smaller and uses 34% less power than other Intel chips with similar capabilities.

Each of the new offerings come with seven-year manufacturing support and are best suited for embedded and industrial computer systems, small and midsize business and home network-attached storage, enterprise security devices, Internet telephony, and wireless infrastructure.

Prices range from $40 to $95, depending on clock speed and whether the product includes Intel's acceleration technology for cryptographic and packet processing for enterprise-level voice over IP applications and/or for security appliances, such as VPN gateways and firewalls. Intel also provides software drivers and software modules for download, such as libraries for secure enterprise voice applications and tools for developing security appliances.

Hardware vendors expected to use Intel's new products include Nortel, Alcatel-Lucent, Advantech, Lanner, iBase, NexCom, Emerson, and others. The SoCs also support multiple operating systems, such as Wind River's real-time operating system and Red Hat Linux.

While the new products use an older Pentium M CPU, future SoCs will be built around Intel's Atom core. Atom is one of Intel's latest 45-nanometer-scale manufactured processors. The low-power chip available with one or two cores is expected to have a clock speed ranging from 800 MHz to 1.87 GHz and is aimed at ultramobile PCs, smartphones, mobile Internet devices, and other portable and low-power applications.

Intel said it has more than 15 SoC projects planned, including the company's first consumer electronics chip, code-named Canmore, which is scheduled for introduction later this year, and the second-generation Sodaville, set to be introduced next year.

Scheduled to hit the market in 2009 or 2010 is the next-generation semiconductors and accompanying chipsets for mobile Internet devices. Code-named Moorestown, the platform will include a 45-nm CPU code-named Lincroft, which will have the core, graphics, and memory controller on a single die.

The new products and road map are not the first time Intel has built SoC technology. In 2006, Intel sold its XScale technology to Marvell Technology, a storage, communications, and chip developer. XScale, based on an ARM architecture, was the linchpin for Intel's PXA9xx-series communications processor; the same that powered Research In Motion's BlackBerry.

In jumping back into the market, Intel has abandoned the idea of developing a separate architecture and is leveraging the same architecture as the PC and server processors that account for most of its revenue.

Intel this time around also sees an emerging market that will someday encompass billions of next-generation Internet-connected devices, ranging from handheld computers in people's pockets to home health-monitoring devices sending patient data to doctors in a medical center.

As a result, "we can expect the complexity of those system-on-chips to be high," Gadi Singer, general manager of Intel's SoC Enabling Group, told a news conference. Intel, according Singer, is in a strong position to meet the requirements of future SoCs because of its extensive research and development labs and high-volume manufacturing facilities.

Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices is also working on microprocessors for mobile Internet devices, but has not released a road map.

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