Meet Moorestown: Intel's Atom Platform For The Next 10 Billion Devices

Checking Checkboxes

Now, I may be totally wrong about my phone-as-mainstream-PCs thesis. Once I started asking questions in this vein, and about how phones might soon cannibalize desktop and laptop sales, only at much lower price points, Intel reps were quite prompt about trying to divert me from the notion. “That’s not how people use these devices,” commented one rep. I wanted to reply, “Maybe. Then again, they’ve never been able to use these devices in that way.”

Ironically, it was Intel’s opening commentary at the briefing that set me down this thought path. One presenter noted how tomorrow’s smartphones would allow buyers to “get a powerful computer that also happens to make phone calls.” With Moorestown, the company added, “this really hits you in the head.”

As usual, Intel assiduously avoided mentioning rival phone platforms by name, but reps did observe that today’s top three to five smartphones are “increasingly becoming handheld computers.” The company even did an informal study of these leading phones and paid close attention to the first 20 words or so of the marketing on their Web pages. In every case, not one product talked about making phone calls. Instead, the marketing lingo targeted four primary performance vectors that consumers now demand: compute, graphics, video, and Web.

Purists can sit around and debate which phone has better voice quality and reception, but Intel’s point came through loud and clear. Voice functionality is now a checkbox item. All it has to do is be good enough. The public doesn’t demand anything better anymore, at least from a phone. Of course, demands on carriers are a different matter entirely. AT&T, can you hear me now? One of the press managers in Intel’s group noted that her daughter logs in an average of 30 minutes of voice time on her phone per month—and 3,800 texts. That’s not even the future of “phone” usage. That’s now.

The next checkbox item is battery life. The reality is that we all charge our phones every night. Occasionally, some unforeseen adventure or bout of brain impairment might result in needing to stretch for three or four days, but it’s rare to need a phone’s standby battery time to last for more than 48 hours. This is why you never saw a handset based on Intel’s former ultramobile processor, the Atom Z5xx, code-named Silverthorne and part of the Menlow CPU/chipset/wireless platform. Despite having a 2.4W TDP, active battery life under Menlow was atrocious. Given reports of Menlow-based devices like the JooJoo tablet only lasting 2.5 hours under moderate use (compared to the iPad’s 10+ hours), no wonder Silverthorne has kept a microscopically low profile on store shelves.

But what if battery runtime were no longer a problem? What if Intel could check the 48-hour box and move on? OK, a little spoiler here: Intel did. Moorestown smashes the power problems faced by former Atom designs, and in a minute I’ll show you how. Fixing the power problem entailed a lot of rethinking and innovation on Intel’s part, and this leads me to a final thought (for now) on the long-term significance of Moorestown. Look at this:

In general, Intel (and the rest of the processor world with it) has been in the habit of innovating from the top down. The Nehalem launch was another in a long line of examples. New architectures and technologies are made for the top of the market, then they gradually filter down into cheaper and smaller implementations.

With Moorestown, though, I see a development reminiscent of the Pentium M. This is innovation from the bottom up, because there’s a lot more to Moorestown than just a power breakthrough. The Z6xx is also Intel’s first fully integrated System on Chip (SoC). The Clarkdale-based Core i5 and Core i3 cram processing and graphics into the same socketed package, but the Z6xx actually builds them into the same die, a feat Intel has never released before. Did Intel have the capability to do an SoC before now? Of course. But not until now, in this product segment, did it make sense to bring an SoC to market. Intel had to fix its power issues before any other steps made sense, including pushing an SoC up the processor chain into tablets (still virtually a dead segment until the iPad’s release), netbooks, nettops, and perhaps even notebooks.

We don’t know yet how much influence the Atom family will have on the entire spectrum of computing devices, but it’s clear that innovation is no longer only a top-down affair. Breakthroughs are going to be coming fast and furious from the bottom, and their impact on the middle 80% of the market may become much more significant than changes happening at the top.

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  • silverx75
    Man, and the HTC Incredible just came out....
  • yannifb
    Huh, i wonder how this will compete with Bobcat, which supposedly will have 90% of desktop chip performance according to AMD.
  • descendency
    Why isn't this a 32nm product yet? If your concern (which it would be with said devices) is power consumption, shrinking the die can only help...
  • Greg_77
    silverx75Man, and the HTC Incredible just came out....

    Man, and I just got the HTC Incredible... ;)

    And so the march of technology continues!
  • Anonymous
    well we can only wait till amd gets their ULV chips out with their on die graphics so we can get a nice comparison.
  • Chemist87
    Can it run Crysis?
  • williamvw
    descendencyWhy isn't this a 32nm product yet? If your concern (which it would be with said devices) is power consumption, shrinking the die can only help...

    Time to market. 45 nm was quicker for development and it accomplished what needed to get done at this time. That's the official answer. Unofficially, sure, we all know 32 nm will help, but this is business for consumers. Right or wrong, you don't play all of your cards right away.
  • seboj
    I've only had time to read half the article so far, but I'm excited! Good stuff, good stuff.
  • burnley14
    This is more exciting to me than the release of 6-core processors and the like because these advances produce tangible results for my daily use. Good work Intel!
  • ta152h
    Do we really need x86 plaguing phones now? Good God, why didn't they use a more efficient instruction set for this? Compatibility isn't very important with the PC, since all the software will be new anyway.

    I like the Atom, but not in this role. x86 adds inefficiencies that aren't balanced by a need for compatibility in this market.
  • liquidsnake718
    I wonder how this would stack up in terms of simple benches when compared to the atoms? Definitly for power this one is a sure winner by far but this will be interesting to see since the line between server, desktop, laptop, netbook, and mobile phone processors are getting blurred
  • anamaniac
    I'm impressed, and I hope this goes far. Sounds like some awesome performance for a x86 chip that competes to RISC chips.

    I was considering buying a Sony Satio, but now I may rethink it.
    1366x768 multi-touch S-AMOLED, magnesium case, 802.11 b/g/n, 3G/4G, miniDP, miniHDMI, miniDVI, microUSB, 64GB high quality flash memory, 12MP main camera with a 5MP front facing camera, a new turbo boost that pumps cocaine into the chip until it gets too hot when the performance is needed but puts the chip to sleep in idle, and a Linux based OS specifically tailored to the chip. Sounds like something I would pay a lot for. Complete desktop PC replacement. :)

    Don't disappoint me Intel. I was hoping for 32nm 8 core LGA 1366 chips by now when I originally bought my i7 system, and you already disappointed me.

    Now only if 5GB/month on 3G didn't cost $85/month in my area, never mind the texting/calling plan.
  • technoholic
    Intel will for sure put these advancements in their upcoming Desktop CPU families. Low power consumption + high performance anyone?
  • steddy
    I noticed that on the last page of the article there was a reference to "IA Architecture". Is that a typo, or did you mean to be redundant?
  • JohnnyLucky
    Read the whole article. Read several sections twice. It sure sounds good. Wondering what the monthly fee for service will be in 2015.
  • jesseralston
    As mentioned earlier, has developed a tight allegiance to the Linux-based MeeGo OS, formerly known as Moblin before Intel and Nokia joined hands.
    Missed something here that seems fairly critical to the sentence.
  • Snipergod87
    The next checkbox item is battery life. The reality is that we all charge our phones every night. Occasionally, some unforeseen adventure or bout of brain impairment might result in needing to stretch for three or four days, but it’s rare to need a phone’s standby battery time to last for more than 48 hours

    I charge my phone once every week, i would be pretty angry if it didnt hold a charge longer than 48 hours.
  • erloas
    I also only charge my phone once a week, if that. On the same token my phone is now 2 years old and still holds a charge for a week. A lot of people that charge their phone every day also tend to have phones that won't hold a charge longer then a day or two after a year anyway.

    I also don't see the use of all these MIDs. I hardly even take my laptop out because I have a desktop and other then movement there is nothing the laptop can do that I wouldn't rather use my desktop for.

    MIDs might be ok if they didn't cost an extra $30-50 a month to get access to the internet which I'm already paying $30-50 a month for for my general usage. They might start making sense when someone like Qwest starts included DSL and wireless together for a single reasonable monthly fee so I'm not paying twice for the same thing.

    And unless you absolutely have to know the instant you get an email, and can't go more then a few hours without updating your facebook page, I don't see a daily usage for mobile internet. I probably don't think "boy it would be nice if I could check the internet while I'm out" more then once every couple months.
  • neiroatopelcc
    Articlewill be things like gaming consoles, connected cars, or whatever, we’re still talking about multiple billions of connected handheld devices in use.

    Good luck holding a car in your hands!

    Anyhow, the article seems mighty detailed compared to what we're used to here. Usually only don writes anything this detailed.

    Nice read, though imo the first page looks very much like a bought article.
  • jecastej
    Yeah great news I think about what this all means for me! The ultramobile sector growing so fast and becoming more and more preeminent. So much excitement at your hand disposal. I don't know, call me pessimist but when looking at those charts I think the best years for desktop computing started to decline a while ago, sniff. Why, well because I see that the huge market dictates where the real money goes for development. Up to these days the desktop enjoyed most of the investment and this is because the mass market wanted faster computers for everything. And now a regular laptop is powerful enough for 90% of the task most users do and will sell 2 or 3 or more times faster. Soon smaller mobile form factor PCs will dominate and I guess my beloved desktop and workstation parts will start to cost more and be updated less frecuently. I am sitting in front of a workstation all day long and I desire a faster progression for the workstations and no any sigh of slow down.

    Anyway beside the progress in the mobile and ultramobile sector I picture in the not so distant future an ultramobile CPU with memory and graphics and storage system the size of a phone in a modular and stackable design and you will have some very serious and scalable mobile supercomputing power. But will mobile form factor CPUs ever going to surpass the need for a desktop machine? Has the computing revolution started from the bottom up and I just noticed?