Intel kicked off its annual Developer Forum San Francisco last night, and the message from the company was clear: it's serious about taking on Cambridge-based rival ARM in the mobile and embedded markets.
Intel has long held an overwhelming majority share of the desktop and server processor markets. Its delayed entry into mobile, however, cost it valuable ground: smartphones are near-exclusively powered by chips using the ARM architecture, while Intel has only recently been able to claw back some of the tablet market space with the launch of Windows-based devices like the Surface Pro 3. In embedded, Intel is a vanishingly small presence: even its own smart devices, created to showcase potential applications for its Quark embedded processor, were built using ARM chips to get them ready in time for their unveiling.
IDF 2014 San Francisco is where Intel has drawn the map of its upcoming battle. There was little on show at the event about the company's desktop or server processors, or even its freshly-launched Broadwell-based Core M family, but the company spoke heavily of mobile and embedded.
Edison Hits the Market
Intel's Edison has undergone considerable revision since its unveling. Originally, the Edison embedded platform used an SD card layout and packed a dual-core Quark processor - the company's low-cost embedded chip, based on the old Pentium microarchitecture. For reasons unspecified, both the SD card layout and the Quark processor were scrapped in favour of a more traditional computer-on-module (CoM) design with an Atom chip.
Now, the Edison is launching as a dual-processor design featuring a 22nm system-on-chip (SoC) with a 500Mhz dual-core Atom processor and a 100MHz Quark chip, featuring 40 general-purpose input-output (GPIO) channels, 4GB local storage and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy radios. The Edison launches in the US via Mouser and Maker Shed for $50 as a bare module or $85 as a kit for use with Arduino hardware, with a $60 breakout board kit also available. General international availability is scheduled before the end of the year.
Another of Intel's embedded offerings comes in the RealSense platform, which uses multiple cameras on an Atom-powered platform to provide Kinect-style real-time depth sensing. Its primary market will be tablets, Intel explained, with the first machines to feature a RealSense camera system to hit the market by the end of the year starting with the Dell Venue 8 7000 Series. Software support has been promised from companies ranging from Arcsoft and Autodesk to Opera and Scholastic.
As well as the option to use the RealSense camera system as a human interface device, Intel has indicated that it will be exposed to the operating system's photographic applications - allowing, the company claims, for post-processing effects including changing focus and even measuring the distance between objects.
Android 'Value' Tablet Reference Design
Intel's Doug Fisher unveiled a reference design for what his company calls an 'Android-based value tablet,
' dubbed the Intel Reference Design for Android. The key feature of the platform is that Intel, rather than the OEM, will do all the core engineering work and will guarantee that operating system updates will be made available to the end-user within two weeks of each new Android release for a full two years after each device launches. The operating system image will also be pre-certified for access to Google Mobile Services, including the Google Play app store, speeding the time-to-market.
Fisher also demonstrated various tools for developers, including the Intel XDK HTML5 development tool for Windows, OS X and Linux, an Android Context Sensing SDK, and Unified Binary Management Suite (UBMS) for faster firmware generation. The first devices to take advantage of these features and use the Reference Design for Android are due later this year, with each OEM agreeing to use a pre-qualified bill of materials (BoM) supplied by Intel - meaning each tablet will be near-indistinguishable from its rivals in terms of specification.
The event wasn't exclusively about embedded and mobile, however, with Intel giving developers a brief preview of its next-next-generation Skylake 14nm processor platform. Unlike the recently-launched Broadwell, which is a process shrink based on the Haswell microarchitecture, Skylake is to be a new microarchitecture design using the same 14nm process node as Broadwell. No new details of the chips were made available during the demonstration, but Intel did confirm that it planned to launch the first Skylake processors in 2015 - despite the delays it has experienced with Broadwell as a result of the new 14nm process node.
More details of IDF, which runs through to the 11th of September, are available at the official website