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Intel moving fast to improve smartphone processors

Intel will release smartphone chips based on new manufacturing processes over two years to improve smartphone performance and battery life

Intel finally entered the smartphone market last month but the company is not sitting still, with plans to quickly release chips that improve performance and power efficiency on smartphones.

Intel detailed its upcoming smartphone chips at an investor meeting in Santa Clara, California, on Thursday. The company will release chips over the next two years based on new manufacturing processes that bring longer battery life and improve performance on smartphones.

Lava International last month started shipping the first Intel Inside smartphone, which ended years of Intel's struggles to enter the smartphone market. Intel in 2010 showed an LG smartphone based on the earlier Atom chip called Moorestown, but no smartphones with the chip were ultimately released.

Intel's major smartphone rival is ARM, whose processors ship in around 95 percent of the handsets. Intel's CEO Paul Otellini said though Intel is a new entrant in the smartphone space, it could take away market share from ARM.

Intel is taking a two-pronged approach with smartphone chip development, with one upcoming chip focusing on high-performance smartphones and the other on low-end smartphones that are inexpensive.

Intel later this year will release a high-performance Atom Z2580 smartphone chip, which will have a dual-core processor and LTE 4G capabilities. The chip will provide twice the performance of the company's current single-core Atom Z2460 chip, which is found in Xolo's X900 smartphone with 3G capabilities. Both the chips are made using the 32-nanometer process.

Next year the company will release a low-power Atom chip code-named Merrifield for high-performance smartphones. The chip will have a new processor design and graphics core, and deliver a more "immersive experience" than today's smartphones, said Mike Bell, general manager of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group, during a Webcast presentation.

"It's a retooled part from the ground up," Bell said.

The Merrifield chip will be made using the 22-nanometer process, which will bring significant performance and power-efficiency improvements.

For low-end smartphones, Intel next year will release an integrated chip made using the 22-nm process. The chip will be a followup to the current Atom Z2000 chip, which runs at 1GHz but is not yet being used in smartphones.

By 2014, Intel will release chips made using the 14-nm process, though further chip details were not shared.

Otellini said the smartphone chip development over the next two years will go at twice the pace of Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors in a chip doubles every two years.

"We're increasingly bringing the best of Intel technology to mobile devices -- phones and tablets," Otellini said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com


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