Intel discusses shift to system-on-a-chip tech

The chipmaker is putting more emphasis now on system-on-a-chip tech, which is used widely in smartphones and tablets, where the company's largely been absent.

Intel's system-on-a-chip tech covers the entire range of computing devices from servers to smartphones.  Intel's mainstream processor technology is only suitable for traditional PCs and servers.
Intel's system-on-a-chip tech covers the entire range of computing devices from servers to smartphones. Its mainstream processor technology is only suitable for traditional PCs and servers. Intel

Intel today disclosed technology that it hopes will get more of its silicon inside smartphones and tablets.

At the International Electron Devices Meeting, Intel laid out its next-generation 22-nanometer "SoC" system-on-a-chip technology. An SoC puts most of a device's core functions onto one piece of silicon and is typically used in mobile devices where space and power efficiency are paramount.

"In the past...we were focused primarily on developing transistors with ever higher performance," Mark Bohr, an Intel senior fellow, said to journalists in a teleconference. "Now we're developing technologies with a much wider range of transistors...all the way down to tablets and pocket devices."

Those two devices -- tablets and smartphones -- are sucking up more SoCs every year. That's a problem for Intel because most small devices are based on SoCs from rival ARM.

Intel is applying its 22-nanometer "Tri-Gate" 3D chip technology to SoCs for the first time. That newer 3D tech outperforms current 32-nanometer SoCs by 20 percent to 65 percent, Intel said.

Intel high-speed and power-efficient Tri-Gate SoC transistors.
Intel high-speed (R) and power-efficient Tri-Gate SoC transistors. Intel

Though 22-nanometer Tri-Gate tech is inside mainstream Ivy Bridge processors today -- widely used in Windows and Apple laptops -- it hasn't made it into Intel SoCs, which always lag Intel's PC-centric processors.

Current Intel SoCs still use older 32-nanometer technology. Those SoCs include the Clover Trail chip being used in Windows 8 tablets and the Medfield chips adopted for Motorola and Lenovo smartphones, among other devices.

As today's announcement is limited to production technologies -- not specific chips -- Intel made no mention of which future SoCs will tap the 22-nanometer Tri-Gate tech.

But one candidate is expected to be a design code-named Silvermont, according to Nathan Brookwood, principal analysts at Insight 64. It's rumored to be a redesign of the Atom chip architecture.

The 22-nanometer SoC technology will be ready for high volume manufacturing in 2013, Intel said.

Intel's production technologies stretch all the way down to the 10-nanometer generation.
Intel's production technologies stretch all the way down to the 10-nanometer generation. Intel
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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