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Intel looks to build ultra-efficient mobile chips Apple cant ignore

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English: Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel

Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During Intels annual investor day on Thursday, CEO Paul Otellini outlined the companys plan to leverage its multi-billion-dollar chip fabrication plants, thousands of developers and industry sway to catch up in the lucrative mobile device sector, reports Forbes.

via Intel looks to build ultra-efficient mobile chips Apple cant ignore (Apple Insider)

But what you are seeing is a form of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) being spread about to sow the seeds of mobile Intel processors sales. The doubt is not as obvious as questioning the performance of ARM chips, or the ability of manufacturers like Samsung to meet their volume targets and reject rates for each new mobile chip. No it’s more subtle than that and only noticeable to people who know details like what design rule Intel is currently using versus that which is used by Samsung or TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp.) Intel is currently just releasing its next gen 22nm chips as companies like Samsung are still trying to recoup their investment in 45nm and 32nm production lines. Apple is just now beginning to sample some 32nm chips from Samsung in iPad 2 and Apple TV products. It’s current flagship model iPad/iPhone both use a 45nm chip produced by Samsung. Intel is trying to say that the old generation technology while good doesn’t have the weight and just massive investment in the next generation chip technology. The new chips will be smaller, energy efficient, less expensive all the things need to make higher profit on consumer devices using them. However, Intel doesn’t do ARM chips, it has Atom and that is the one thing that has hampered any big design wins in cellphone or tablet designs to date. At any narrow size of the design rule, ARM chips almost always use less power than a comparably sized Atom chip from Intel. So whether it’s really an attempt to spread FUD, can easily be debated one way or another. But the message is clear, Intel is trying to fight back against ARM. Why? Let’s turn back the clock to March of this year in a previous article also appearing in Apple Insider:

Apple could be top mobile processor maker by end of 2012 (Apple Insider, March 20, 2012)

This article is referenced in the original article quoted at the top of the page. And it points out why Intel is trying to get Apple to take notice of its own mobile chip commitments. Apple designs its own chips and has the manufacturing contracted out to a foundry. To date Samsung has been the sole source of the A-processors used in iPhones/iPod/iPad devices as Apple is trying to get TSMC up to speed to get a second source. Meanwhile sales of the Apple devices continues to grow handsomely in spite of these supply limits. More important to Intel is the blistering growth in spite of being on older foundry technology and design rules. Intel has a technological and investment advantage over Samsung now. They do not have a chip however that is BETTER than Apple’s in house designed ARM chip. That’s why the underlying message for Intel is that it has to make it’s Atom chip so much better than an A4, A5, A5X at ANY design ruling that Apple cannot ignore Intel’s superior design and manufacturing capability. Apple will still use Intel chips, but not in its flagship products until Intel achieves that much greater level of technical capability and sophistication in its Mobile microprocessors.

Twin-track development plan for Intel’s expansion into smartphones (The Register, May 11, 2012)

Intel is planning a two-pronged attack on the smartphone and tablet markets, with dual Atom lines going down to 14 nanometers and Android providing the special sauce to spur sales. 

Lastly, Ian Thomson from The Register weighs in looking at what the underlying message from Intel really is. It’s all about the future of microprocessors for the consumer market. However the emphasis in this article is that Android OS devices whether they be phones or tablets or netbooks will be the way to compete AGAINST Apple. But again it’s not Apple as such it’s the microprocessor Apple is using in it’s best selling devices that scares Intel the most. Intel has since its inception been geared towards the ‘mainstream’ market selling into Enterprises and the Consumer area for years. It has milked the desktop PC revolution as it helped create it more or less starting with its forays into integrated micro-processor chips and chipsets. It reminds me a little of the old steel plants that existed in the U.S. during the 1970s as Japan was building NEW steel plants that used a much more energy efficient design, and a steel making technology that created  a higher quality product. So less expensive higher quality steel was only possible by creating brand new steel plants. But the old line U.S. plants couldn’t justify the expense and so just wrapped up and shutdown operations all over the place. Intel while it is able to make that type of investment in newer technology is still not able to create the energy saving mobile processor that will out perform an ARM core cpu.

Written by Eric Likness

May 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Apple A5X CPU in Review

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Apple Inc.

Apple Inc. (Photo credit: marcopako )

A meta-analysis of the Apple A5X system on chip

(from the currently shipping 3rd Gen iPad)

New Ipad’s A5X beats NIVIDIA Tegra 3 in some tests (MacNN|Electronista)

Apple’s A5X Die (and Size?) Revealed (Anandtech.com)

Chip analysis reveals subtle changes to new iPad innards (AppleInsider-quoting Anandtech)

Apple A5X Die Size Measured: 162.94mm^2, Samsung 45nm LP Confirmed (Update from Anandtech based on a more technical analysis of the chip)

Reading through all the hubbub and hand-waving from the technology ‘teardown’ press outlets, one would have expected a bigger leap from Apple’s chip designers. A fairly large chip sporting an enormous graphics processor integrated into the die is what Apple came up with to help boost itself to the next higher rez display (so-called Retina Display). The design rule is still a pretty conservative 45nm (rather than try to push the envelope by going with 32nm or thinner to bring down the power requirements). Apple similarly had to boost its battery capacity to make up for this power hungry pixel demon by almost 2X more than the first gen iPad. So for almost the ‘same’ amount of battery capacity (10 hours of reserve power), you get the higher rez display. But a bigger chip and higher rez display will add up to some extra heat being generated, generally speaking. Which leads us to a controversy.

Given this knowledge there has been a recent back and forth argument over thermal design point for iPad 3rd generation. Consumer Reports published an online article saying the power/heat dissipation was much higher than previous generation iPads. They included some thermal photographs indicating the hot spots on the back of the device and relative temperatures. While the iPad doesn’t run hotter than a lot of other handheld devices (say Android tablets). It does run hotter than say an iPod Touch. But as Apple points out that has ALWAYS been the case. So you gain some things you give up some things and still Apple is the market leader in this form factor, years ahead of the competition. And now the tempest in the teapot is winding down as Consumer Reports (via LA Times.com)has rated the 3rd Gen iPad as it’s no. 1 tablet on the market (big surprise). So while they aren’t willing to retract their original claim of high heat, they are willing to say it doesn’t count as ’cause for concern’. So you be the judge when you try out the iPad in the Apple Store. Run it through its paces, a full screen video or 2 should heat up the GPU and CPU enough to get the electrons really racing through the device.

A picture of the Apple A5X

This is the new System on Chip used by the Apple 3rd generation iPad

Written by Eric Likness

April 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

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