x86 Everywhere: Two Years Later

In my original Atom architecture article I spoke about the benefits of having a platform that could run existing applications, in this case x86 applications. Developers don’t like porting to new hardware, which is one reason GPU computing hasn’t really taken off yet.

Since then we’ve seen a major change: the introduction of platform specific App stores. Starting with the iPhone App store and extending to most smartphone platforms (Android Marketplace, Palm App Store), with a simple way to sell their apps we’ve seen a completely new group of developers emerge specifically targeting smartphones. These aren’t your traditional developers. Companies like Adobe and Microsoft are effectively absent from any of the app stores. Instead what you find are smaller development houses putting forward smaller but very useful applications and games for use on these smartphones.

The scariest part for Intel is that none of these apps run on x86 hardware. While there are still more x86 applications than iPhone or Android apps, there are more smartphone friendly apps running on ARM architectures than x86. The advantage of being able to run existing code without lengthy port times just isn’t an advantage today. In fact, you could consider the move to x86 a disadvantage from the perspective of a company like Apple or Google. While it’d be simple to offer x86 versions of apps through a closed store system, it means extra work for the developer and for Apple with little benefit today. By aiming at the netbook first, Intel may have squandered one of its major potential advantages in the smartphone.

All isn’t lost however. There’s still the argument that the applications and algorithms that have yet to be moved to smartphones still exist in x86 form. As smartphones grow more powerful, so will the types of things we try to do on them.

Intel Takes a Stand: No Windows Phone 7 Support The Memory Controller: 32-bit LPDDR1
POST A COMMENT

67 Comments

View All Comments

  • teohhanhui - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    But they'll be showcasing it on their Moblin/Meego which is Linux. Won't shoot themselves in the feet, will they? Reply
  • rahvin - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    And if it only runs on Moblin, only with specific kernel versions, uses a binary blob driver and isn't maintained it will be the same story as GMA500 all over again. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    As pointed out, plenty of other Android phones are using the same graphics. And I haven't heard a lot of complaints about lack of drivers for the Droid/N1/etc. Reply
  • elisha.pan - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    GMA500 has nothing with the Intel GMA series, but name. It is exactly the same with PowerVR SGX 535. Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    This is the same GPU used in almost every other smart phone on the market, except that it's designed to be clocked up to twice as fast. It's not going to run Crysis *rolls eyes* but it's more than capable of doing everything a smart phone/internet tablet will need to do. Reply
  • ekul - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    exactly. without open source drivers for the graphic any development of meego outside of intel will never go anywhere. One of the reasons I bought my current netbook is the gma 950 has excellent open source drivers that just work.

    Open source development moves fast. Closed source binaries get left behind because they can't keep up with the release schedule. The current gma 500 drivers already need a kernel several versions old as well as an old X server. How many releases is meego going to miss?
    Reply
  • ViRGE - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    I can see why Anand thinks it's an interesting product, but based on his article I don't think Intel is quite there.

    The current need for 5 chips is going to be a problem no matter how Intel dresses things up, and if all phones end up looking like the design shown I wouldn't be surprised if the consumer reaction was tepid - a phone of that size is still pretty big. The video playback time is also going to be a problem when it comes to spec sheets (I doubt the real-world impact will be as huge), but OEMs like their spec sheets and consumers aren't too far off either. Just looking like it'll perform poorly there may be enough.

    The other issue is the reliance on an OS. At this point it seems like no one really wants another OS. Most people around here seemed to be more relieved than concerned when Palm went under. With BlackBerryOS, IPhoneOS, Android, and WinCE, there seems to be as many OSes as the market can reasonably handle. Moblin/MeeGo may be necessary for the hardware right now, but I see no reason to expect that it's going to be properly developed for consumer use like the above OSes were. Unless Intel can land RIM/Apple, they need to get Android up to par on Moorestown and they need to do it yesterday.

    Ultimately I think it's going to Medfield that's a proper ARM competitor. With fewer chips it will fit in to traditional designs, and with any luck Intel will be a node ahead of its competition on the manufacturing process. It won't solve the current OS reliance, but it'll put them in a better position than Moorestown does.
    Reply
  • ET - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Ultimately I think that most people don't care about the OS. The OS mainly matters in terms of applications available for it, and it's a pain for developers to address many OS's, but also an opportunity for new developers to carve their niche.

    That said, Anand did mention that Intel is making Android available for this new platform, which should be good enough.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    It's much closer than expected. There were quite frequent comments that thought it wouldn't even reach 5 hour on standby! Having a lot of knowledge and doing a bit research helps of course. Glad they can be roughly on par though.

    It's likely the idle power can't be achieved without optimized OSes. Even if you can run Windows on it, what's the point when you won't have the battery life for it? Windows uses too much on keeping legacy support and its too bloated for idle power under 50mW.

    Platform approach is the key to low power on Moorestown.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    I'm not sold. ARM has been more efficient for a lot longer, even though it's still being made on commonly larger processes than current Intel CPUs. All smartphones are ARM anyhow, so I don't see the advantage in having x86 in this space Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now