Intel has started shipping its long awaited low-power chip for wireless devices, but the company is clearly starting at the high end of the market.
The Centrino Atom--which took almost four years to develop--is the world's fastest chip under 3 watts of power, according to Intel. The first Atoms run at speeds up to 1.8GHz and sport a thermal ceiling of 0.65 to 2.4 watts. By contrast, the average laptop chip runs at 3.3GHz and consumes 35 watts at a peak.
The company unveiled the chip at the Intel Developer Forum taking place in Shanghai this week. Intel also said that the first chips based around Nehalem, a new chip architecture for desktops, notebooks and servers, will come out this year. Nehalem is designed to go up to eight cores. (Hubba, hubba.)
Then there is a whole new architecture coming in 2010 code-named Sandy Bridge.
Atom will probably get the most attention at the show. Intel has been trying to play a bigger part in the wireless market for years and create new categories of devices for wireless, cranking out another chapter in the so-called "new users, new uses" strategy. Intel will initially aim Atom at "pocketable devices" which can play movies, hold hours of music, and let users scroll the Internet. A few companies like OQQ and Samsung have come out with ultra-portables like this. They haven't sold in huge numbers. The first devices with Atom will sell for around $400 to $600.
The mobile sector is the fastest-growing category in the semiconductor business and Intel wants to be in there to compete with companies such as Dallas-based Texas Instruments, Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm, and STMicroelectronics.
"The architecture is going to be able to bring all the PC functionalities, what you saw in the market in 2003 and 2004," Gary Willihnganz, director of marketing in Intel's mobile group, said in a conference call from Shanghai on Tuesday.
To help convince wireless handset makers to select its chip, Intel promises a "seven year extended life support." That is, handset makers will be able to get chips and support for seven years for the same processor. Handset and consumer electronics device makers change internal silicon slower than PC makers.
The company presented a list of around 20 manufacturers, 10 service providers, and a big group of software companies that have signed on to work with Intel. How many come out with devices remains to be seen, but it's a start. In the past, Intel has kicked off mobile phone efforts with less support.
News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this story.