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Intel Medfield chips with LTE could pave way for phones

Intel is working on LTE network support for its Medfield system-on-chips, which may finally open the door for Intel-powered smartphones in the United States.

Sumeet Syal, Intel's director of product marketing, told TechCrunch that although current Medfield chips don't support 4G LTE, some LTE products are coming late this year, and more products that support the faster network will ramp up in 2013. Syal didn't comment specifically on U.S. availability for phones with Intel inside.

Today, nearly all smartphones are powered by ARM-based chips, such as Nvidia's Tegra and Qualcomm's Snapdragon. Intel uses a different architecture, called x86 or x64, which powers most laptop and desktop PCs. The chip maker has been trying to break into the phone and tablet market for years, but has only made headway recently with its Medfield platform.

Outside the United States, Intel chips power six smartphones, including the Motorola Razr I, which closely resembles the Razr M on Verizon Wireless. But with most major U.S. wireless carriers now stocking only LTE smartphones, there's no chance of Intel breaking into the market with lesser data speeds.

In addition to LTE support, Intel told TechCrunch that it's also still working on a dual-core version of Medfield, even as quad-core phones based on ARM architecture are hitting the market. (Intel has argued that today's dual-core processors are wasted on Android phones, due to poor implementation of threading technology.)

At the moment, however, there aren't any major reasons to want an Intel-powered phone over an ARM-based one. Recent benchmarks by Anandtech for one Intel-powered handset, the Lava Xolo X900, found decent performance and battery life, but nothing remarkable compared to the competition. Still, that may change over time as Intel shrinks its chips down, improving performance and efficiency even further.

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