Intel's low-power Atom chip ready for Android smart phones, tablets

Intel will put its mobile computing chips on the table in 2012, hoping its new Medfield system-on-a-chip design can catch on with smart-phone and tablet manufacturers.

Long the dominant chip-maker for desktops, laptops and servers, the company has been stuck on the sidelines during the mobile device boom, as manufacturers opted for ARM processors, which have been more efficient than Intel’s Atom line.

But Medfield, the latest version of Atom, has made strides in power efficiency, according to MIT’s Technology Review, which recently got to test a prototype phone and tablet with Medfield running the Android operating system.

The core functions of the chip are now all in one piece, rather than being spread across two or three chips, Technology Review reported. The result of the system-on-a-chip design, which is what’s used in ARM processors, is lower power consumption, which translates to longer batter life for the device using the chip.

In Technology Review’s tests, the prototype phone, which as running the Gingerbread (Android 2.3) OS, could play Blu-Ray-quality video, stream it to a TV, featured fast Web browsing and had a camera with a high-resolution burst mode.

The tablet, which ran Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), had a screen slightly larger than that of the iPad 2 and seemed easier to use than many Android tablets, Technology Review said.

Intel has said it expects that products using the chips will be announced in the first half of 2012. The U.K.-based ARM currently dominates the chip market for smart phones and has said it plans to move aggressively into the mobile PC market as well.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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