Intel specifies Medfield, tips Lenovo, Motorola deals

Intel specifies Medfield, tips Lenovo, Motorola deals

Technology News |
Intel has provided details of its Medfield 32-nm platform for smartphones claiming that the main SoC consumes less than 800-mW worst case. It has also announced that it has deals in place with Lenovo and Motorola for products based on Medfield to appear in 2012.
By eeNews Europe

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Lenovo is scheduled to introduce the K800 smartphone based on Medfield for the Chinese market in the first half of 2012, Intel said. The second partnership — with Motorola Mobility — is due to bear fruit in the second-half of 2012 but the Intel executives declined to say whether that would be for smartphones only, or would also include tablet computers.

However, it would appear that Intel is aiming Medfield at gaining design wins in smartphones and first and foremost. It is for the smartphone that Intel has produced a reference design.

The Medfield platform is based on a 32-nm CMOS SoC called Penwell — part numbered Atom Z2460 — which has as its CPU the single-core Saltwell implementation of the Atom processor architecture. However, the Penwell SoC comes with a number of other chips around it to complete the system functionality. It appears that a number of other companies have chips in the Medfield platform including Texas Instruments.

As expected, Intel has announced that the top clock frequency for Medfield is specified at 1.6-GHz with the highest "burst-mode" power consumption described by Intel briefing documents as being about 750-mW and less than 800-mW. This is considerably lower than some industry observers had predicted.

However, this power consumption is for the Penwell SoC on its own. Intel did not discuss the power consumption of the full Medfield chipset including modem and power management ICs with up to 1–Gbyte of DDR2 format DRAM.

Medfield platform overiew with Penwell SoC shown in blue. Source: Intel. Click image to enlarge.

Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of the Mobile Wireless Group at Intel, said the Penwell chip has better performance at the same power consumption as rival SoCs and in some cases can demonstrate better performance at lower power consumption. In a slide presentation the company claimed it has performance leadership at competitive smartphone power consumption levels but produced no quantitative data to support this. It did show itself to being not the best performing chip for a 720p video playback benchmark performing, but also claimed to be far from the worst.

The Medfield chip includes the single-core Saltwall, 512-kbytes of level-2 cache, the single-core SGX540 2-D/3-D graphics processor licensed from Imagination Technologies Group plc (Kings Langley, England) as well as blocks for high definition (1080p) multi-standard video encode/decode and separate programmable image signal processor. The graphics processor is clocked at 400-MHz.

High power consumption has been a criticism of Intel’s SoC designs in the past and to save it Intel has added a raft of power management features.

The Penwell SoC has a dedicated 32-nm process and Intel has made design changes in the creation of Saltwell CPU core to support a lower than usual minimum voltage operation. It also has what it describes as an ultra-low power L2 cache. Intel did not give the low voltage figure now supported by Penwell.

The company has also specified numerous dynamic clock frequency stepping points to allow the voltage to be reduced and power saved. The CPU clock can be reduced from 1.6-GHz to 100-MHz. There is also a variety of standby modes with various standby power consumptions and resumption latencies.

The Penwell SoC is designed to support an 8- to 24-megapixel primary camera as well as a secondary 2-megapixel camera. To aid catching the right shot the SoC also supports 10-frame burst-mode photography mode. That captures 10 full 8-megapixel pictures at 15 frames per second. Part of the support for this is in the image signal processing core which is believed to derive from the technology of Silicon Hive, acquired by Intel in February 2011. Silicon Hive had been licensing its technology to Intel for several years prior to the acquisition.

However, the Medfield platform is not a single chip. It requires a separate power management IC that not only performs power management control but has audio functionality and USB controller on one chip, according to Bell. It is possible that another company may provide this chip.

The wireless modem is also a separate IC; originally the IFX6260 HSPA+ modem IC, from Infineon Technologies AG. That IC became an Intel part when the company acquired the wireless business unit of Infineon at the beginning of 2011 and has been relabeled by Intel variously the IMC6260 or the XMM 6260.

A third-chip within the Medfield platform is a combination connectivity chip from Texas Instruments that provides Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and FM radio and it appears that GPS support comes from CSR plc.

Intel has produced a reference design of smartphone to show off its Medfield platform, which looks a bit like an iPhone. The unit has been flashed around before by various Intel executives when keynoting.

Intel smartphone reference design based on 32-nm Medfield platform.

Intel said the design offers 15-days of standby if the smartphone is doing nothing or 7 hours of voice calls or Internet browsing or 8 hours of watching 720p video. The design is capable of 1080p, 30fps video encoding and 1080p, 60fps video playback and supports a 1024 x 768 internal display and a 1920 x 1080 external display.

Medfield is not expected to last too long in the market as Intel has plans to introduce an SoC based on a CPU called Silvermont in 22-nm CMOS in 2013 and to replace that with an SoC based on a CPU called Airmont in 14-nm CMOS in 2014.

Intel executives declined to say whether there were plans to introduce a dual-core of the Medfield platform in 32-nm. "Our single-core chip is competitive with dual-core products from our rivals," said Bell.

Intel’s executives declined to talk about the price of the chip in volume except to say that it would be "competitive." Analysts from Nomura Equity Research predicted that Medfield would be introduced at a price of $17 or $18.

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