Yesterday an Australian journalist reported from the Taiwan Intel Developer's Conference (IDF) that Shane Wall, Intel's VP, mobility group and director of strategic planning, said that the Iphone lacks processing power. She further reported Pankaj Kedia, Intel's director of ecosystems for its ultra-mobility group, said that the shortcomings of the Iphone are not because of Apple, the shortcomings of the Iphone have come from ARM.
By midday the blogs were tossing back and forth variations of the comments. Often lacking in the early versions was the fact that the reporter travelled to Taipei as a guest of Intel.
We asked ARM's US spokesperson for a comment and he forwarded this email: "This is Intel’s claim so we recommend you talk to them and ask them for data to support it."
We decided to compare the Intel comments with what we heard at the ARM Developers Conference and the San Francisco IDF. At San Francisco IDF, we talked about upcoming Intel Atom-based Nettops.
The original Intel Atom processor motherboards were fitted with the Intel 945GC chipset. It was shown when an Atom 230 mini-ITX system was compared to a desktop AMD Athlon 64 2000+ based mini-ITX system. The AMD system beat the Intel Atom 230 in energy consumption and processing power. Because, the Intel 945GC used twice the power and could not perform as well as the AMD 780G chipset.
This week at IDF Taiwan, Intel announced its second generation Moorestown designed to enable a new generation of ultra-thin, touchscreen MID (mobile Internet devices) with extensive battery life. Moorestown is based on a SOC (system on a chip) which integrates the 45nm processor, graphics, memory controller and video encode/decode onto a single chip and an I/O hub code named Langwell.
Think of Moorestown as the bare motherboard that comes pre-loaded with Lincroft, a SOC, which combines the CPU, Northbridge and video card. Lincroft will include support for DDR3, PCIe, USB, solid state disk (SSD), and SATA interfaces. Langwell, a SOC, is the Southbridge provides all the communication interfaces, including optional support for both WiMax and HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) cellular networks. Intel may be pushing WiMax, but they are protecting their platform developers by adding Ericsson 3G HSPA as well.
Intel executive, Anand Chandrasekher, stated that Intel is on track to reduce the Moorestown platform idle power by more than 10x compared to the first-generation MIDs based on the Intel Atom processor. The Moorestown second gen MID should be shipping by this time next year.
Back to Intel's claim about the ARM processor being too slow compared to Moorestown. What is at the heart of this food fight is microprocessor sales. In 2006, Intel sold its XScale Division for $600M to Marvel which included an ARM-based product line. That sale was not supposed to impact the ability of other Intel businesses in the networking and storage market segments to continue to use ARM-based, Intel XScale processors. Those Intel businesses were to be able to continue licensing chip designs directly from ARM Holdings PLC and modifying the designs for their needs.
If that is true, what are all those claims at IDF-Taiwan that ARM-based products are slow?
Last month at the ARM Developers Conference we heard some very interesting comparisons of the ARM architecture versus the Intel Atom first-gen platform. The slide shows an Intel 1.6 GHz Atom compared to an ARM 768 MHz CortexTM-A8 with their GPU, the Mali-400 MP @ 220 MHz which will display HD 720p. ARM claims their 40 nanometer SOC combination CPU/GPU only draws 3 watts. This was compared to the first-gen Atom drawing 4 to 8 watts plus the 22 to 30 watts for the Intel 945GC chipset.
At the ARM Developers Conference we spoke with Dr. Jon Peddie about ARM's future products versus their competitors. Peddie said that other chip architecture has real competition in the UMPC, MID, small notebook arenas.
According to Intel's Shane Wall, the problem with the Iphone is that its processor which is based on ARM technology is slow. We did some investigation of the first generation ARM-powered small notebook platforms. There are very few articles that really show much in the way of comparing the Intel Atom versus the ARM-processor. However, Jenn Lee at Pocketables has compared the website load times of three ARM-based, first-generation, UMPC notebooks. We have not been able to find comparable information for the first-gen Intel Atom MIDs. That would be an interesting comparison.
Apple’s Iphone uses the ARM platform. Dan Dobberpuhl designed many of the high-performance microprocessors, including the PDP-11, uVax, Alpha, and StrongARM. The StrongARM microprocessor is a faster version of the Advanced RISC Machines ARM design. It was created by Digital Equipment Corporation, but later sold to Intel who continued to manufacture it, before replacing it with the XScale.
Dobberpuhl also founded PA Semiconductor which Apple bought in a surprise move in April. The PA Semi chip design had been previously scooped up by the US Department of Defense for use in missiles, computers in fighter jets, and specialized surveillance equipment. Forward Concepts analyst, Will Strauss, said that by all accounts the PA Semi chip is meritorious and there really is nothing else quite like it.
In September, the New York Times found that an engineer who was a PA Semiconductor employee is working as a senior manager chip CPU architect for Apple since April of this year - speculation is that he is working on an ARM-based CPU design. In part, this guesswork is based on ARM’s July indication that a major company had taken out a multiyear architecture license for ARM's current and future technologies.
At the ARM Developers Conference, Marvell Technology Group showed versions of the XScale processor it acquired from Intel using Marvell's own version of the ARM architecture. Warren East, chief executive officer of ARM, said that it had already taped out its first 32nm chip using the Common Platform Alliance process being developed at IBM and expects it to deliver similar performance and power benefits.
It's no surprise this all came out the day after Apple announced that since the July premiere of the Iphone 3G, which incorporates the ARM architecture, it has sold 6.9 million units according to company estimates. Compare this to 6.1 million first-generation Iphones sold since its inception through June when the replacement 3G was launched. Apple said it has already sold more than 10 million in calendar 2008. That's a lot of CPUs which Intel could have sold, but didn’t because it relinquished its ARM licence to Marvel.
ARM claims the average mobile phone has two of their architecture designed processors per phone and there are over 12 billion mobile phones with ARM inside.
This war between Intel and ARM of claims, counter-claims, and press releases could be more fun to watch than the AMD versus Intel show. X
Marvell plans expansion