Intel Silverthorne Back in the Mobile Game

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Intel Silverthorne Back in the Mobile Game

codename Menlow intel chipIntel has revealed details of Silverthorne at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco. Intel's new chip is a tiny 25mm2 and the full package is just 14x13mm2. The small 64-bit multithreaded chip is based on Intel's new 45nm Hi-k low power microarchitecture, and is targetting MIDs or "mobile internet devices". I should point out that Intel abandoned the MID market last year when they sold their XScale ARM division to Maxell Technology Group. ARM processors are used in the majority of Windows PDAs, and other small mobile devices. I was so shocked that Intel was abandoning this market that in 2006 I wrote the following:
As a gadget-lover this is absolutely shocking since the Intel XScale chips are used in PocketPCs, handhelds, mobile phones and other embedded devices and gadgets. The popular Treo and Blackberry devices also use the XScale chipset.

Intel has been one of the leading innovators of providing  low-power consumption chipsets, continually pushing the edge of battery life and performance in small embedded devices. Intel has one of the largest R&D budgets in the IT world and some of the most sophisticated labs. Intel selling the XScale processor division for $600 million will certainly give Intel a much-needed cash boost, but they may have just mortgaged their future earnings.

Well 2 years later, it appears that Intel had a "secret Ace" up its sleeve. They've been working on a low-power x86-based chip for MIDs. Now only is it low power (0.5W to 2W) but it can run Windows and other desktop applications. Microsoft actually had to develop a whole new operating system called Windows CE just for the ARM processor. Windows Mobile which is based on Windows CE also was specifically designed for the ARM. If Intel's new Silverthorne succeeds, you'll be able to for example run Microsoft Word 2003/2007 natively and not CE-based Pocket Word.

Even cooler, since it is based on the very popular x86 chipset, not only can you run Windows, but you can also run the Linux and Mac operating systems. Imagine a portable device that can run Windows, Linux, and Mac in a form-factor that can fit in your pocket!

Intel's next-generation platform for MIDs and UMPCs – codenamed "Menlow" will include the new processor (codenamed "Silverthorne"), based on a new 45nm Hi-k low power microarchitecture. The platform also includes the next-generation chipset, codenamed "Poulsbo," providing a single-chip solution. Silverthorne and Poulsbo were both designed from the ground up for MID and UMPC platforms.

My guess is that initially Silverthorne will be used in UMPCs (ultramobile PCs, i.e. tablet PCs ) and laptops rather than mobile phones. This will give more battery life, though some processing horsepower will be sacrificed. Over time though, Silverthorne could find itself in mobile phones, portable gaming units, and even multi-function MP3 players such as the Apple iPod touch.

So let's see here. Intel sells off ARM for a hefty $600 million two years ago and then re-enters the MID & UMPC game using their stalwart x86 processor. Well played Intel. Well played...

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