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Apple, Intel skating to mobile face-off in 2013

Apple is not just an Intel customer anymore -- it's a chip rival with some of the most advanced smartphone silicon on the planet.

Motorola Razr i with Intel Z2460 chip that runs at speeds up to 2GHz.
Motorola Razr i with Intel Z2460 chip that runs at speeds up to 2GHz. Motorola

With signs that Apple has designed one of the fastest smartphone chips yet, Intel is getting set to rev up its smartphone silicon in 2013.

Performance benchmark site Geekbench is already showing the iPhone 5's dual-core A6 central processing unit (CPU) with roughly twice the performance of the A5 chips in the iPhone 4S and third-generation iPad. And Geekbench also has the A6 edging out the quad-core chip in Samsung's Galaxy S III.

And there may be a quad-core Apple A series chip in the works for 2013, according to Linley Gwennap, the principal analyst at The Linley Group.

Ironically, Apple is eclipsing Intel, the world's largest chip company, in smartphone silicon. So, what can Intel do?

Well, it took a step in the right direction today with the Motorola Razr i, which sports an Intel Z2460 system-on-a-chip (SoC) running at speeds of up to 2GHz, one of the highest gigahertz ratings for a smartphone.

Intel will follow this up with the dual-core Z2580 (the 2460 is single-core) by early next year and, to address the U.S. market, will add 4G LTE capability. All of the Intel-based phones announced to date, including the Razr i, have been for overseas markets.

Which is another challenge for Intel. It needs to land a future chip in a flagship product from a major U.S. vendor to demonstrate that it has really arrived in smartphones.

Could a phone with Intel's dual-core Z2580 hold its ground against the iPhone 5 and Apple's A6? We should know by early next year.