Intel re-enters System-on-Chip market with its X86 architecture

Intel has just announced a System on Chip (SoC) product named EP80579. The basic idea of a SoC is to integrate as many components of a computer as possible in a chip. That allows to reduce the size, cost and power consumption… Right now, these Intel chips are often used to power devices such as network attached storages and so on…

The more interesting part of Intel’s announcement is that upcoming SoC will use the Atom processor design and will have higher performance. Atom is used today to power Mobile Internet Devices (MID) and NetTop computers. In the near future, this entry into the SoC segment might translate into faster time-to-market for new designs and a larger software applications offering.

With increased functionality and programmability, future consumer devices will require more complex software, which itself requires a more stable platform… and Intel is right in projecting this. These days, most SoC designs are custom-built from an Advanced Risc Machine (ARM) design and the software if often largely rebuilt from generation to generation. It has been like this way for some time, because such a design ends up as being a smaller chip (compared to a more general design), which is less expensive to produce.

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult, time-consuming and expensive to create custom designs. Also, fewer people have access to the latest chip manufacturing process that can produce the smallest chips. Intel believes that it can add value by proposing a more generic platform (that fits the needs of many) at similar cost (thanks to mass-production and advanced manufacturing process) at specified power requirements. Also, Intel leaves a path for integrating 3rd party IP.

For device makers and software developers, life will be easier because the platform is more stable. From a high-level perspective, it is like transforming the mobile industry, which is quite messy and full of proprietary stuff, into somthing like the PC industry, that Intel knows all too well.

It will take some time, but the economics and Moore’s law (which says that chip density doubles every 18 months) are on Intel’s side. Although current Intel designs are not as small, cheap and low-power than ARM’s, Intel is getting there quicker than many would have thought not so long ago. This will be an interesting contest to watch.


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