Intel has launched the first in a series of low-power portable chips aimed at bringing high-speed internet connectivity any electronic device, the new embedded x86 system-on-a-chip (SoC).
SoC processors use a Pentium M computing core, based on the highly popular Centrino-branded microprocessors introduced in 2003. Next year, Intel will introduce another family of chips based on the Intel Atom core, a faster processor which is targeted at mobile Internet devices
The Intel EP80579 Integrated Processor Family, code-named Tolapai, represents Intel's re-entry into the high-end, application-specific microcontroller market that marks the chip maker's maiden entry in the mobile devices and "embedded" segment, which Intel believes has enormous growth potential.
Code-named Tolapai, the new chip is aimed specifically at being embedded on mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and represents Intel's new strategy for making small power-efficient products that have all the components needed on a single chip.
Interstingly, Intel has flirted with microcontrollers earlier, leaving the segment to focus on x86 processors, coming back to microcontrollers with XScale CPU products a few years ago, and leaving again.
Though SoCs have been in embedded systems for a long time, Intel sees a great potential in this market. An earlier attempt at making chips for the embedded systems market, the Timna project, did not do well, but the processor manufacturer has great expectations for the new design that will be the first Intel CPU featuring an on-die memory controller since the 80386EX in 1994.
Speaking on Tuesday San Francisco's Moscone Centre, Intel chief executive Paul Otellini said the industry was on a new "performance per watt" course that will deliver powerful Intel-based computers that are increasingly smaller, sleeker and more energy-efficient.
If the Tolapai project suceeds, it would enable Intel to enter a market segment dominated by rival hardware architectures like PowerPC, ARM, and MIPS.
ARM-based chips are in the one or two watt range, meant for use in cell phones and other small gadgets where low power consumption is the overriding priority. The race is between the two companies on who can get the right combination, as ARM speeds upward in performance.
When compared to a desktop or mobile central processing unit, the Tolapai comes with some pretty impressive features for a CPU designed for embedded systems.
It will use three running frequencies in the first phase, 600MHz, 1 GHz, and 1.2GHz and will be composed of 148 million transistors with very low power consumption in the range of 13 to 20 watts.
The design of the Topalai SoC chip integrates a special bus called FastPath; different components can communicate with the memory controller and with each other without blocking or degrading the system's performance. While the embedded systems' market has a great growing potential, Intel's move on this market segment is posing a serious threat to VIA Technologies that features the same kind of interests.