Even back when Intel first unveiled Medfield at CES, we knew the company was planning a number of additional announcements for Mobile World Congress this week. Things kicked off yesterday with UK provider Orange’s announcement that it’ll be rolling out Medfield phones this year. Orange isn’t a company US readers will be very familiar with, but it’s a major player in the UK and France with over two hundred million customers. The new phone will offer 16GB of storage, a 4-inch screen, and weighs in at 117g (~4 oz). The one significant downside is that it’ll debut with Gingerbread; those eager for ICS will have to wait for an over-the-air update promised for not long after launch.
Orange is just one of several partners announcing today, and new partners are only part of what Intel is unveiling. When we covered Intel’s new Z2460, we told you that the new chip would be clocked at 1.6GHz. Intel has since adjusted the Z2460′s maximum clock speed upwards by 25%; the chip will now clock up to 2GHz. Which OEMs will take advantage of this option is less clear; Intel cautions that “each customer implementation is different.” Whether the current crop of devices use the higher 2GHz threshold or not, Intel’s ability to ship a faster clock speed says good things about the chip’s yields and overall power consumption.
The Z2460 isn’t the only smartphone SoC Intel is launching in 2012. The second half of the year will see the debut of the single-threaded Atom Z2000 and the Intel XMM6265 modem. The Z2000 will be a low-power Atom variant clocked at up to 1GHz; the XMM6265 is an HSPA+-capable modem. The current Z2460 Atom SoC is paired with the XMM 6260; it’s unclear if this new chip is a simple tweak to that product or a new, low-power 28nm variant.
One of the hotly debated topics in the wake ofMedfield’s launch has been whether or not Intel can build a chip to fit into a low-power form factor. The reason that it can — and why a 1GHz Atom phone will draw minimal amounts of power — is highlighted in the graph to the right.
This graph shows the chip’s power consumption at various clock speeds. Low frequency mode’s (LFM) operating clock speed is well below 1GHz, while HFM is moderately above it. As a result, a 1GHz single-core Atom should draw very little power. Unlike its bigger brothers, the Z2000 won’t offer Hyper-Threading, but that won’t be a problem given the markets the chip is aimed at.
Intel’s first high-end chip in the smartphone market will be the 32nm Atom Z2580; it’s currently scheduled to debut in early 2013. The Z2580 will be a dual-core variant of the current Medfield with two cores clocked at 1.8GHz with Hyper-Threading enabled and a dual-core GPU based on the SGX544 at 533MHz. The Z2580 will also launch with a new, LTE-capable modem, the XMM 7160. Intel’s current high-end radio, the XMM 7060, is also built on a 40nm process, but in this case, we’re willing to bet that the XMM 7160 will be a 28nm variation of that part. Current 40nm LTE radios draw a tremendous amount of power; all smartphone vendors are talking up their transitions to 28nm designs.
The SGX544 is the fully DX9-capable version of the SGX543 (found in the iPhone 4S and iPad 2) and is twice as powerful as the SGX540 at the heart of Medfield. The Z2580′s GPU will also be clocked 33% higher than the Z2460′s, with two cores running at 533MHz as opposed to a single 400MHz core. As with Medfield, Intel is pushing current tech to higher clock speeds to counter other, potentially more advanced architectures — the generally quoted fillrates and GFlop figures for the SGX543/544 family assume the chip is running at 300MHz.
Of the two new parts, the high-end dual-core Atom is more likely to capture headlines, but it’s the lower-end Z2000 that’s driving Intel’s grand vision. India and China are two of the fastest-growing cell phone markets on the planet. In these markets, the Z2000 will be going up against single-core phones based on the ARM11 architecture that pre-dates even the Cortex-A8. The Z2000′s capabilities will make it an extremely potent competitor for the likes of the HTC Explorer (pictured right) or Lenovo A60; both devices currently sell into the sub-$200 smartphone segment.
Intel may have chosen to focus on growing market share in China and India due in part to the difficulty of cracking the US. Here, large phone subsidies and Apple’s dominant market position make it difficult to tempt manufacturers into taking a chance on a new phone architecture. Apple’s lawsuits against Android handset manufacturers may not have directly impacted Intel’s push into the market, but it’s helped create a general culture of uncertainty. The confluence of these factors means it makes better sense for Intel to build momentum and perceived legitimacy outside the US. There will be Medfield handsets available to domestic customers, but we’re far from the only market.
We’re still months away from seeing Medfield phones shipping to US customers; Z2460 devices should start shipping in Q2/Q3, with Z2000 phones near the end of the year. The dual-core, 32nm Z2580 will ship to retail in early 2013, probably around the same time that Intel unveils its next-generation 22nm Atom device family. By that time, Qualcomm’s Krait family will be well-established, Cortex-A15 devices should also be starting to ship, and Nvidia’s updated Tegra 3 should be available. 2012 increasingly looks like it’ll be the calm before the storm — and Intel intends to be well dug in before the waves hit.
Updated @ 12:27: Intel has announced a partnership with India’s Lava to launch a 1.6GHz Medfield phone running Gingerbread 2.3. More details as they become available.