Moblin/MeeGo: The Fastest Smartphone OS?

PC game developers often criticize Intel for holding back the whole industry by not shipping faster integrated graphics. Game developers have to target the least common denominator of graphics hardware, which happens to be Intel’s integrated graphics. So nearly all PC games suffer as a result.

Moorestown is a good bit faster than any ARM based SoC on the market today. Memory bandwidth limitations aside, if you look at our recent Apple A4 vs. Atom performance comparison you’ll see what sort of gap exists between what you get today in a smartphone and what Intel is trying to deliver:

Unfortunately for Intel, all smartphone OSes are optimized for the least common denominator in SoC performance. That is 400MHz - 1GHz ARM11 or Cortex A8 class hardware. Smartphone OS vendors need to make sure their OSes run on the majority of hardware, which just isn’t Moorestown. Intel needs something to take advantage of its added performance, so Intel had to go off and do some software work. Irony is hilarious.

Moorestown is useless if it doesn’t offer significantly better performance or user experience (or both) than its competitors. To ensure this, Intel did two things.

First, Intel bought a company called Wind River. A $400M company prior to acquisition, Intel snagged WindRiver back in July of 2009. Their mission statement? To take open source software and make it commercially viable.

Whether it’s stress testing or adding new features, Wind River takes open source software and improves it to the point where you can now sell it as a commercial product. This is similar to what Apple did with the base of much of OS X. You take some good open source projects and pay people to polish and harden the last 10 - 20% of them.

Wind River has a platform for Android. It incorporates Atom optimizations into Android, hardens the software stack and prepares it for use in Moorestown devices. Google has little incentive to dedicate a lot of support to Moorestown, so Intel had to internalize that.

The second thing Intel did to ensure Moorestown’s performance wouldn’t go to waste was the development of Moblin. A smartphone/tablet targeted Linux based OS, Moblin has been lurking in our minds for well over a year now. I never really got why Intel felt the need to support the development of a mobile OS until now.


Moblin running on Moorestown

Moblin will be the highest performance OS for Moorestown to run on top of. Until a company like Apple or Google decides to embrace Moorestown, Intel needed a way to guarantee an optimized software stack for Moorestown. Moblin is that guarantee. It’s designed from the ground up to be Atom optimized, it’ll be faster than any other OS running on Moorestown and will also do the best integration of power management for Moorestown. Intel knows the architectures of its chips best, and Moblin effectively knows whatever Intel knows.

A Moorestown specific OS could also evolve to include more CPU intensive UIs and features just wouldn’t work well on the majority of ARM devices out there, which would in turn give Moorestown a tangible feature advantage in the smartphone market.

Earlier this year Intel and Nokia announced their cooperative efforts on an OS called MeeGo. Take one part Moblin and one part Maemo and you get MeeGo. The idea is to take Moblin and expand it to more platforms (particularly ARM based devices). Moblin will eventually go away and there will only be MeeGo, however there are currently smartphones and tablets based on both Moblin and MeeGo in development.

While Moblin and MeeGo are the best platforms for Moorestown, there’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that needs to be done. Thus the first Moorestown based smartphones will likely run Android.

The Neutral Role

Carriers aren’t very happy with Apple and Google. They’ve effectively wrestled power away from the carriers and left them as nothing but network providers. In my eyes this isn’t a bad thing. Over the past several years the major carriers have shown us nothing other than they can’t be trusted with too much power. Where there is frustration, there’s money to be made.

Intel wants to capitalize on that frustration by offering the carriers an alternative. Moblin won’t be branded, carriers could customize their own builds and do whatever they want with them. The carriers would ultimately limit what could run on their phones, much like Apple does today. It puts power back in the hands of the carrier, which is something they obviously like.

Whether or not that’s a good thing for the consumer is another question entirely. Intel tells me that the carriers have learned a lot from watching Apple and Google, and that they have no interest in making the same mistakes twice. I’m not sure I believe that just yet.

More OS Support if Needed

Intel made it clear that while it’s only focusing on Android, Moblin and MeeGo at the start, if a vendor were to express interest in doing a custom design around Moorestown the answer wouldn’t be no. In other words, if Apple wanted to move iPhone OS to Moorestown, Intel will make it happen.

Intel also mentioned that Moblin is an enabling necessity for Moorestown. If that need ever goes away, it has no issues handing the market over to Apple, Google or whoever wants to carry the torch. Intel doesn’t want to be in the mobile OS business, it’s simply participating because it is compelled to in order to build the best environment for Moorestown to succeed. If Intel’s plan works out, then all smartphones would eventually use some Moorestown derivative and they would be optimized for much higher performance CPU right off the bat. We’re not there today, so Moblin has a role to play.

There's also the question of Windows 7 support. Without a PCI bus, Moorestown can't run the popular desktop OS. However if Intel were to deliver a version of Moorestown with PCI support, that could solve that problem...

Aava to the Rescue: An iPhone Sized Moorestown Platform Intel Takes a Stand: No Windows Phone 7 Support
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  • Suhail_kapoor - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Anand, Intel said 3 out of 5, you said one magic device, I think they have one sorted out ... NOKIA is a company needing revolution and this partnership is Nokia's hope for smart phone market.

    Also outside US and to some extent Europe Nokia has a very strong foot hold, combined with essentially free software such as MeeGo the road looks good, only IF and a big if, they can deliver on software front.
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, May 09, 2010 - link

    “…NOKIA is a company needing revolution and this partnership is Nokia's hope for smart phone market.”

    Only problem: Nokia needs a polished solution fast—its average sales price is imploding and the shareholders are restless. A solution that would require them to throw away all the development work to date would be suicidal.

    If it takes 12-24 months to implement a totally new architecture, with new software (seems a bit optimistic), only a smartphone maker whose roadmap is in great shape today can afford to make the switch; that'd be Apple. But they have just bulked up with PA Semi and Intrinsity; it'd be hard to imagine much Intel Inside.

    Not to mention that Intel's i-series CPUs seem to have been designed to derail Apple's plans of running with a graphics-centric, well-supported CPU. The extra silicon & design time seems to have kept the i3 out of Apple's 13" notebook, while the 15" and 17" have just-a-bit-rocky auto-switch technology to fire up the NVidia GPUs. It doesn't seem that Intel has exactly been courting Apple's product intentions of late.
    Reply
  • Lord Banshee - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Intel First SoC based on Atom is not Moorestown, but CE4100(codename Sodaville) is: http://download.intel.com/design/celect/prodbrf/32...

    http://intelconsumerelectronics.com/

    Where is the love for Intel's CE product. Anand you should look into reviewing some products based off these products too.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Sure, is there a shipping product based on the CE3xxxx or CE4xxxx series?

    I remember there seemed to be something like the Yuixxx from Conceptronix or some similarly named Dutch company.. Did they ever ship?
    Reply
  • Lord Banshee - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    I am not sure what products have CE products in it... CE devices typically don't advertise this kind of info.

    Lots of rumors when searching for ce4100 on engadget

    http://www.engadget.com/search/?q=ce4100&invoc...
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Most of those CE4100 results are Intel announcements announcing platform updates or availabilities.

    The TiVo Premier result, I am not sure why it is even there.... TiVo Premier teardown revealed it is fully Boradcom based, IIRC.

    I am very interested to know whether there are any CE4100 products out in the hands of the customers right now... Any Intel employees / PR guys care to offer this information?
    Reply
  • zdzichu - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Seeing that GPU part is descendant of Paulsbo... I foresee similar fiasco with opensource drivers as with GMA500. Too bad, it really damages Intel reputation. Reply
  • beginner99 - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    funny gma 600. Even if intel like improves gm drivers 100x fold, they will still suck...So you can pretty much say it depends on that.

    And there go my dreams for useful drivers for my menlow device...it's a PITA. slowing hardware by deliberatley? making horrible drivers.
    Reply
  • JumpingJack - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Intel's graphics performance as they begin integrating into the CPU improved significantly, to the point of competitive. http://www.anandtech.com/show/2952/2

    Your view point is strictly from a desktop running pixels number as high as 1900x1200 (too much for even the best IGP from nVidia or ATi/AMD), on a smartpone the graphic intensity is not nearly enough... it does not need to win on the highest FPS, it just needs to get 30 FPS or better for a fluid experience.

    The graphics component should be fine, no real reason to suspect otherwise.
    Reply
  • rahvin - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Given the abysmal Linux support of the GMA500 I foresee a complete piece of crap again that will result in this being used in NO android phones. For me Android is the future of the cellphone and frankly what happened with Paulsbro foreshadows the complete crap that this platform will be on Android and other Linux based platforms (like WebOS). The concerns of the OP are completely justified and I had exactly the same reaction when I read the GPU is based on PowerVR like the piece of crap GMA500.

    Intel cannot succeed in the Phone space if Linux is treated with the same disdain they presented with GMA500.
    Reply

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