Intel shows first Merrifield-based smartphone

Intel says the Atom chip, code-named Merrifield, offers over 50% better performance than its predecessor

Intel on Tuesday showed the first smartphone based on its next Atom smartphone chip code-named Merrifield, which will provide better performance and battery life than current Atom chips.

The Merrifield chip will offer 50% better performance and "much improved" battery life in smartphones compared to predecessor chips, said Tom Kilroy, during a keynote speech at the Computex trade show in Taipei.

The chip is due to ship to carriers and device makers early next year. Merrifield is aimed at high-performance smartphones, and will succeed the current crop of Atom chips code-named Medfield and Clover Trail+ being used in a handful of devices.

Most smartphones today have ARM processors, while Intel chips are in just a handful of devices. Intel hopes Merrifield will give the chip maker an edge in power and performance over ARM in smartphones and tablets. ARM earlier this week claimed its processors were a generation ahead of Intel on performance per watt.

The mobile phone market is critical for Intel as the company tries to shed its reliance on PCs, and expectations for Merrifield are high. Intel's recently appointed CEO Brian Krzanich has reiterated the company's commitment to mobile after questions were raised about the company's direction with the change in leadership.

Kilroy also showed some tablets running Android and Windows on upcoming Atom chips code-named Bay Trail. The models display included Windows tablet with LTE connectivity. Intel Inside smartphones and tablets so far only offer 3G connectivity, and the demonstration is a sign that LTE-based Intel devices will come soon. Kilroy did not say when LTE would reach Intel-based mobile devices.

Intel acquired the cellular network technology when it bought Infineon's wireless chip unit in 2010. Intel plans to implement LTE radio in its Atom chips, but it wasn't immediately clear if the communication chips will be separate or integrated.

Bay Trail tablets will ship starting at $399 later this year, Kilroy said. Intel has said that Bay Trail tablets between $200 and $500 with Android and Windows will be available by December.

The Merrifield and Bay Trail Atom chips are based on the Silvermont architecture, which is the first major architecture redesign since the first Atom chips were released for netbooks in 2008. Silvermont tablet chips use 4.7 times less power than their predecessors, Intel has claimed.

Chips based on the Silvermont architecture will be made using a 22-nanometer process, with transistors stacked in a 3D structure instead of being placed next to each other. This manufacturing breakthrough, called FinFET, provides power and performance benefits to chips.

Kilroy also addressed the future of ultrabooks during his keynote, touching upon the need to "reinvent" PCs with new models in which screens could be touched and detached.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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