To ARMs! Intel Back In Embedded Chip Game

Intel's war on ARM and other RISC-based micro-architectures went from cold to hot Wednesday with the chip giant's release of eight new x86-based "system-on-a-chip" (SoC) processors for the embedded market.

Following the so-called CISC vs. RISC battles of the early days of personal computing, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker seemed content to own the bulk of the PC and server markets with its wildly successful Intel architecture (IA), or x86-based microprocessors, leaving the embedded and consumer electronics markets largely to makers of RISC-based chips.

But a new age of computing that demands Internet connectivity in all manner of devices has Intel on the warpath again. Intel's agenda now is to place its Internet-friendly x86 chips in a much broader swath of what Intel's Doug Davis said was $10 billion market for embedded silicon.

Davis, vice president of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said in a press briefing in San Francisco Wednesday that new embedded devices emerging in the market, including point-of-sale terminals, airport ticketing kiosks and "infotainment" systems in cars, demand connectivity to the Internet on an ongoing basis. Because the bulk of Internet application development has been done for the x86 architecture, Davis said Intel is well-positioned to deliver "applied computing well beyond the PC and server."

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Intel Wednesday released eight new products in its EP80579 integrated processor family, based on what it calls its first "smart" SoC designs for the x86 architecture.

These products range in price from $40 to $95, according to Davis, who promised 15 more SoC projects before the end of the year, including a consumer electronics chip codenamed Canmore.

The push into the embedded market has clearly been accelerated, but Davis also noted that Intel has had a presence there for decades, with "3,500 customers serving 30 segments for 30 years."

While the new EP80579 chips are Pentium-based, Gadi Singer, vice president and general manager of Intel's SoC Enabling Group, said products based on Intel's new Atom processor designs would be forthcoming as well. He said such products would be targeted at the embedded, consumer electronics and mobile Internet device markets.

Singer said that aside from Intel's advantages in Internet-dependent device applications, the chip giant's advances in energy-efficiency, process technology and manufacturing leadership, and its ability to manage processor workload complexity give it an edge in delivering "smart, connected silicon" to an increasingly receptive market.