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
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  • CSMR - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Agreed. Intel needs a process advantage to beat ARM with x86. (Notwithstanding the software pain of transitioning to x86). But it actually doesn't have it. They are roughly on par in this segment, Intel leading by maybe a few months.
    http://channel.hexus.net/content/item.php?item=225...
    Reply
  • hyvonen - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Sorry, but Intel is ahead way more than two months. Intel's 32nm process is better from performance/power point of view than 28nm bulk processes from others. Relying on numbers such as 32nm and 28nm to figure out which one is better is like using only CPU clock frequency numbers to determine which CPU is fastest.

    Oh, and since Intel's 32nm products started shipping in the beginning of this year, Intel is roughly a year ahead... maybe more.
    Reply
  • metafor - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Yes and no. The 32nm shipping is the high-performance (high leakage) one used in desktop/laptop processors and also the current Atom. For a smartphone, that simply won't do.

    The 45nm low-leakage process they used for Moorestown is new territory for Intel and in that respect, they are behind TSMC. While the current bulk silicon 45nm isn't faster than Intel's metal gate 45nm, it's a lot less leaky in terms of power. I would guess it'll take Intel 2 iterations or so before they have leakage down to the point of being competitive. But they have performance going for them.
    Reply
  • hyvonen - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Yeah; first iteration: 45nm low-power process. Second iteration: 32nm low-power process.

    TSMC is stuck, and won't be able to come up with a low-power process beyond the current one for a couple of years. 40nm is in trouble, 32nm is toast. Good luck with making anything below 32nm "low power" in any sense of the word.
    Reply
  • LuxZg - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Ok, so this should be x86 CPU. So will the "tablet version" support normal Windows 7 OS or something similar? That's my only question.. I don't expect Win 7 on smartphone, but unless we have 100% software compatibility "x86 everywhere" won't mean much to people (except to Intel). Reply
  • iwodo - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    It looks great, If Intel could give Apple some VERY good deal i guess Apple might take it.

    I cant wait for the 32nm Medfield.

    But Apple using it would means no more surprise in terms of Hardware.....
    Reply
  • iwodo - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    After reading, I still do not understand the idea why Apple needs to buy other Chip Maker. If Morrestown is this good, and Medfield is much better. ( Apple should know it well before hand ) why spend money.

    Intel is making chips at volume much cheaper then Apple designing and making their own. Hardware CPU dont differentiate the product. Outlook and Software does.
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, May 09, 2010 - link

    “…I still do not understand the idea why Apple needs to buy other Chip Maker. If Morrestown is this good, and Medfield is much better.”

    I think you answered your own question. Apple, who probably had some inkling of Intel's plans, has been plowing ahead with proprietary silicon. They must think that for the next couple of years, anyway, they're better off with ARM-based designs, tweaked in-house and sent to whatever foundry gives them the capability they need.

    Can anybody estimate the number of Atom-class chips Intel sells? The general estimates are that ARM designs go into a billion devices per year, and Apple is probably thinking that they'll move 50 or 100 million per year. Intel would appear to have a serious resource/investment challenge, in addition to the business challenge of talking people into abandoning ARM.
    Reply
  • Visual - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Let me see if I get this straight... this is a x86 system. And it will NOT run standard x86 OSes or binaries?
    If so, the developers of this are complete idiots.

    It must definitely have the ability to run normal desktop windows apps at launch - either by running a full windows OS, maybe modded to make better use of small screen and no kbd, or at least by some wine-like layer. It must run dosbox with the dynamic core.

    Else it being x86 is completely useless.
    Reply
  • safcman84 - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Windows 7 for Phones is hardly an established Smartphone OS. As this chip is targeted for Smartphones, then not having support for Windows is not an issue.

    Besides, why would Intel support a OS that is not optimised for their CPU when it is touted as the most powerful smartphone solution ? A non-optimised OS will make the chip look bad. If Intel supports andriod devices (plus MeeGo and Moblin) suddenly get 2x the performance, with excellent battery life then Intel's decision not to support Windows based phones could force MS to optimise their OS for use on Moorestown, otherwise Windows based devices dont have a chance.
    Intel have not said they will NEVER support windows devices, just that they dont at the moment cos the current iteration of Windows 7 for phones is unoptimised.

    In addition, as someone who used Smartphone for use with work, I would happily deal with the inconvenience of having a slightly longer phone if I got 2x the performance for the same battery life.

    If the theoretical performance proves true in practice then:

    Andriod + Moorestown = Yes please
    Reply

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