x86 Everywhere: Intel Announces Medfield Phones


Even if the early performance figures we've seen hold up under scrutiny, Medfield will face a significant challenge from Qualcomm's 28nm Krait SoC, Nvidia's Tegra 3, and the Cortex-A15 chips due out in the back half of the year. Intel's goal, however, isn't to shatter performance records at this point. Everything we've seen to date suggests that Medfield will be able to compete effectively with the other phones we expect to see launch in 2012.

Longer term, Intel's Atom roadmap looms ominously over the ARM industry's own plans for world domination. In the low power world, power consumption and performance are increasingly dependent on process technology rather than deriving primarily from a CPU's architecture. Here, Intel has a profound advantage.

The far blue-purple block denotes the beginning of 20nm risk production

By 2013, Qualcomm, TI, Samsung, and NV will have collectively moved to 28nm, at which point Intel will be deploying 22nm. TSMC's roadmap, shown above, shows the company beginning 20nm deployments in the second quarter of 2013. Such estimates must be taken with a grain of salt; TSMC began 28nm risk production in 2010 and started shipping parts for revenue in Q3 2011. Qualcomm is expected to ship 28nm chips for revenue beginning this quarter.

In short, there's reason to think Intel's roadmaps are a heck of a lot more accurate when it comes to shipping parts on new processes, particularly when Atom will debut on 22nm after it's been in use for Ivy Bridge for nearly a year.

We think Medfield could change the way people think about x86, but even if it doesn't catch fire, it's the first real salvo in a war we expect to heat up very, very quickly. ARM may have collectively snickered after Moorestown, but no one's likely to be laughing anymore.

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