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New Atom SoC will target IoT devices, says Intel

Apr 8, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 2,126 views

At IDF Shenzhen, Intel announced a rugged IoT version of the Atom x3 smartphone SoC, with built-in cellular radios and supporting both Linux and Android.

Intel introduced the Atom x3 (Sofia) system-on-chips, along with more powerful, 14nm-fabricated “Cherry Trail-T” Atom x5 and x7 models, at Mobile World Congress in early March. Some of the x3 parts are built by China-based Rockchip.

Like the original smartphone- and tablet-oriented Atom x3, the “purpose-built” IoT version of the processor will offer built-in 3G or LTE basebands. Unlike the smartphone version, the new chips will boast seven years of extended product lifecycle support, and will be offered in extended temperature versions. While the mobile version of the x3 supports Android and Windows, the IoT version will support Android and embedded Linux. Developer kits will be available in the second half of this year, said Intel.

Intel slides comparing the Atom x3-C3130, x3-C3230RK, and x3-C3440
(click images to enlarge)

The integrated baseband should enable affordable long-range communications for sensor devices beyond the range of WiFi. Such devices are more likely to be located outdoors where they are subjected to extreme weather conditions that require extended operating temperature. Additionally, IoT devices, like most embedded appications, generally demand long-term support.

Table of Atom x3 C3130, C3230RK, and C3440 specs
(click image to enlarge)

Last month, Intel said 20 companies will release some 45 Atom x3 based products, including Asus and Jolla, the makers of the Sailfish OS Jolla phone. At IDF Shenzhen, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich gave the first live demo of an x3-based phone that incorporates the x3-C3230RK quad-core processor reference design, supporting LTE-TDD connectivity over China Mobile’s network. Phones based on the design are expected in the second half of the year.

Atom x3 C3130 (left), C3230RK, and C3440 block diagrams
(click images to enlarge)

The new IoT version of the x3 appears to be the product of a continuation of the partnership between Intel and ARM SoC manufacturer Rockchip, which co-designed and built the x3-C3230RK SoC (shown in the figures above). The mobile Atom x3 SoCs integrate two or four 64-bit, 28nm fabricated Atom cores along with an ARM Mali GPU, an image sensor processor (ISP), and integrated 3G or LTE basebands. The dual-core, 1GHz x3-C3130 and quad-core, 1.2GHz x3-C3230RK ship with 3G basebands, as well as Mali-400 MP2 and Mali-450 MP4 GPUs, respectively. The quad-core, 1.4GHz x3-C3440 integrates a 4G LTE baseband and a Mali-720 MP2 GPU.

Also at IDF Shenzhen, Krzanich showed off a smaller version of Intel’s 3D RealSense camera built into a 6-inch phablet prototype. The depth camera is not only smaller, but is said to have a lower thermal output, as well as a longer detection range. The existing version of the RealSense camera is built into an AscTec Fireflyhexacopter drone for obstacle avoidance. The Firefly runs Ubuntu on a quad-core Intel Atom.

Intel also announced that it was expanding the turnkey program for the Atom x3 and Atom Z3700 processors to the Atom x5 in order “to help reduce customers’ cost and time to market for Intel-based tablets.” The turnkey program provides customizable reference design with differentiated applications and software, quality and certification support, software tools, and a component catalog, says the chipmaker.

Intel Atom x3, x5, and x7 SoCs, introduced at MWC last month
(click images to enlarge)

There was no more news about an expected embedded version of the x5 and x7. Based on previous Intel announcements of new Atom processors, the mobile versions are generally followed by their embedded counterparts within a few months.

The quad-core, 14nm fabricated Atom x5 and x7 offer the same Gen8 graphics found in the latest 5th Generation Intel Core processors, delivering up to twice the 3D graphics performance compared to previous “Bay Trail-T” Atom Z37x5 tablet SoCs, according to Intel.The quad-core Atom x5 (Z8500 and Z8300) and Atom x7 (Z8700) will appear in $119 to $499 tablets from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba, in the first half of the year, says Intel. The Atom x7 is the fastest of the SoCs, but not by much. The x5 platform comes in both 1.84GHz x5-8300 and 2.24GHz x5-8500 models.

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