Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Intel Takes Aim at Apple and ARM With New Atom Chips

intel atom z6

Intel's revealed some details of its next-gen Atom CPUs, essentially extending the capabilities of the chips that powered the netbook revolution. Since this is over, Intel really wants the Atoms inside tablet PCs, to rival Apple's ARM relationship.

The chips are the "Moorestown" architecture we've been hearing about for a while, and it's been rebranded with a much sexier-sounding "Z6" label for the official launch. The earlier Atoms were revolutionary because though they were, in some sense revisiting the past of Intel's chip designs, where chips were slower and less powerful, they used new fabrication and architecture designs that meant they were cutting edge, and consumed lower power than their bigger laptop and desktop CPU siblings. But they're not power-sipping enough to comfortably power the next-gen set of mobile computers as they were designed by cutting down Intel's bigger chip designs, rather than being built for speed and power-friendliness as much as rival ARM's chips are.

Hence the Z6's were designed so they could slot "into the high end of the smartphone segment" according to their chief architect Belliappa Kuttanna. Not only that, but their power frugality is supposedly impressive—about 10 days of standby is capable when using a "BlackBerry-style" battery, or so says Pankaj Kedia, director of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group (though you may well note it's in his interests to promote stats like this). The stat that users will care about is active use time though, and Kedia says that this equates to about five hours for Web browsing or video watching.

The chips will directly support Meego, the Linux-based OS developed in tandem with Nokia, Intel's own Moblin platform and Android OS, plus Flash, MS Silverlight, and more—Kedia noted that "software is a very important piece" of the entire smartphone experience...suggesting he's been taking notes from Apple's close integration of hardware and software in the iPhone and iPad.

And it is Apple, of course, that is the target here. It's shunned Intel chips in its mobile offerings because they can't match Apple's stringent requirements for balancing user experience and battery efficiency (and also for who knows what political/business reasons), and recently has even begun crafting its own high-power, highly-tailored chips for its iDevices. Intel is obviously trying to set itself up as a provider for high-tech ready-made smartphone/tablet chipsets for anyone who wants to make a device to rival Apple...particularly now that Android's on the slow ascendant.

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will even take your smartphone to my Twitter feed. And if you really liked this story, you can re-Tweet too.