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Intel aims to reshape chips for next-gen mobile devices

By Agam Shah
February 21, 2011 08:10 AM ET

IDG News Service - Looking into its crystal ball at where trends are leading, Intel hopes to bolster on-chip capabilities to vastly improve the security and functionality of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

The company is looking to implement specialized graphics accelerators and hardware layers to secure mobile devices, company executives said. Intel is also laying plans to integrate sensors and accelerators to measure temperature or quality of air, or check speed, distance traveled and location.

The advent of mobile devices has given rise to movement-and environment-related applications that may not be useful on stationary devices such as PCs, said Dadi Perlmutter, vice president of the Intel Architecture Group, during an interview last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The integrated sensors and accelerators on mobile devices will feed real-time data that could help users make decisions and organize schedules, Perlmutter said.

"[Users] would like to have a lot of information about context. A context could be measuring the speed or measuring the temperature," Perlmutter said.

Intel's researchers are already developing an array of sensors for smartphone-type devices to measure air quality. A mobile toolkit carries carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and ozone sensors to measure air quality, and targets the most common toxic gases people encounter.

But the addition of sensors, accelerators and security hardware is a multiyear integration effort, and needs to be balanced with power consumption of devices and software enablers, Perlmutter said.

For smartphones and tablets, Intel currently offers integrated chips -- also called system-on-chips -- that include CPUs and separate cores for functions such as media encoding and decoding. For example, Intel's low-power Oak Trail tablet chip includes a CPU and a separate accelerator that enables devices to play 1080p high-definition video. But the company wants to rope those features inside CPUs, which could happen as it shrinks chips.

The key to cramming more features inside CPUs is to add more transistors, which could make chips more functional, said Shekhar Borkar, research fellow at Intel.

"It's all about integration," Borkar said, adding that memory, cache and floating point units -- which once resided outside -- have been integrated into CPUs over time.

Intel upgrades to a new manufacturing process every two years, and invests billions to improve its factories. The company later this year will start producing chips on the 22 nanometer manufacturing process, which are faster and more power-efficient than chips made using the current 32-nm process

Intel has already said it would add 3G and 4G radios to future mobile chips, and last month completed the acquisition of Infineon's wireless unit, from which it will get radio technology. The company is also in the process of acquiring security vendor McAfee, which will help blend advanced hardware and software security to protect mobile devices from internal and external threats.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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