Event Coverage

Sneak Peek: Intel's Smartphone Reference Design

By Dr. Jimmy Tang - 11 Jan 2012

Sneak Peek: Intel's Smartphone Reference Design

At Intel's CES keynote this evening, Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini made a couple of major announcements around their smartphone platform (formerly codenamed Medfield). Firstly, the product is finally ready and we will definitely see products based on the Intel architecture this year. Intel also made available a reference design which OEMs can use to reduce development time for such devices.

Secondly, Intel along with Motorola's chairman and CEO made a joint announcement citing a multi-year, multi-device strategic relationship. This unique relationship includes smartphones that Motorola promises to ship in the second half of 2012, as well as tablets based on Intel's processors.

Last but not least, Lenovo will debut the first ever Intel Atom smartphone based on the Android operating system, known as the Lenovo K800. The good news is, the K800 which comes with a 4.5-inch 720p screen will begin shipping as soon as the 2nd quarter of 2012. But the bad news is, it'll only begin shipping in China, on China Unicom's 21Mbps network. It'll feature Lenovo's unique customization for the Chinese market, known as the LeOS user interface. Therefore, it's likely that the K800 will only remain as a China-only product unless they localize the phone's interface for other regions.

Intel's smartphone reference design based on the Intel Atom Z2460 processor.

The reference design which we had the chance to test briefly is based on the Intel Atom processor Z2460 which is clocked at 1.6GHz. Unlike other mobile processors which comes with four cores, the Atom Z2460 is only a single core product. However, it comes with Intel's Hyper-Threading technology which gives the processor two execution threads. Similar to its desktop counterpart, Hyper-Threading does help improve multitasking though it won't be as efficient as a true dual-core processor. But Intel also introduced the Intel Burst Performance Technology that dynamically burst the performance of the processor (in other words, overclock) when applications require it. 

Built into the Atom Z2460 is a dual-channel LPDDR2 memory controller capable of supporting up to 1GB of memory at 400MHz. In terms of bandwidth, it's still not as comparable with some of the more advanced upcoming quad-core processors. Still, it's a single core processor after all and if you consider the bandwidth on a per core basis, it doesn't seem as bad. On the other hand, the processor comes with a 512KB cache - small if compared to their competitors. Then again, on a per core basis, 512KB is comparable.

For graphics, you'll find Intel's Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) with a 400MHz graphics core that accelerates 2D and 3D graphics. The Intel GMA supports an internal display of 1280x1024 and an output resolution of 1920x1080 at 30fps to an external display using HDMI. The internal display maximum resolution means that you won't find phones with displays more than 720p, well, not that there are any smartphones with resolutions exceeding 1280x1024 anyway.

We ran Gameloft's Modern Combat 2 on the phone briefly and tested its responsiveness and you can see in the video below, the framerates were actually pretty decent.

Built into the reference design is an 8MP camera although the Atom Z2460 processor can technically support a 24MP sensor. Video encode and decode is hardware accelerated and it's capable of performing full 1080p30 videos. Watching full HD movies on the smartphone is possible and Intel claims that its built-in hardware acceleration will be able to play videos continuously for up to 6 hours. They demonstrated this in a time lapse video which was shown during the keynote. Here's what was shown :-

Besides video playback, Intel claims that the phone can last as long as 14 days on standby, 8 hours on 3G voice call, 5 hours on 3G web browsing and 45 hours of audio playback.

So far, on paper, the reference design looks promising and the phone was rather responsive, be it games or simply just navigating through web pages and applications. According to Intel, they have been working hard with developers to help them optimize their apps so that they'll run well on the x86 architecture. But that is not required as apps coded for the ARM architecture (that is every single app you'll find in Android Market) would still run on the Z2460 processor. Whether their claims are true, we'll have to wait until we get a proper test unit - likely sometime in the later half of this year.

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