A prominent Silicon Valley analyst believes that Intel's recently introduced x86 Medfield platform is a "credible SoC" for smartphones.
According to David Kanter of RealWorldTechnologies, Medfield is a "good enough" chip to begin the process of building vendor and carrier relationships for Santa Clara.
"After 4 years, 3 process technologies and 3 different designs, Intel finally has a product with power consumption that is appropriate for smart phones," Kanter confirmed in a recent analysis.
"[And] the good news for Intel is that the Medfield reference design seems to be better than the current generation of smartphones. However, the first Medfield products are not slated until the second quarter of 2012."
As Kanter notes, TSMC's 28nm high-k/metal gate process is just beginning to ramp for complex designs like GPUs and SoCs, which means that in the latter part of 2012, the competition for high-end smartphones will be quite different. Essentially, the current 40nm-gen of SoCs from Apple, Qualcomm, TI, Samsung and Nvidia will be replaced by faster and lower power versions, leaving Medfield to face much tougher competition for most of its life.
"Realistically, Medfield will not have a decisive performance advantage over platforms like TI's OMAP5 or the Snapdragon S4. At best, Medfield will be slightly ahead of the competition; but in many cases Intel's performance may lag by 10-30%," Kanter estimated.
"The one area where Medfield is likely to retain an advantage is the ISP, which is highly programmable, unlike many competing designs. The main disadvantages for Intel will be microarchitectural, since competing SoCs will generally use the higher performance A15 or Krait CPU cores and updated graphics."
Kanter also emphasized that Intel's mobile roadmap was perceived as "attractive" by the hyper-competitive mobile industry, as Santa Clara remains on track to ship a 22nm FinFET SoC with the new, power-optimized Silvermont CPU and the recently announced PowerVR Series 6 graphics in 2013. In contrast, the RISC-based chip world will ramp 20/22nm in 2014 at the earliest, an approximate gap of 6-12 months.
"Judging by Intel's plans for 14nm SoCs based on the Airmont CPU core in 2014, this process technology advantage is only likely to grow over time... [Of course], whether that advantage will yield a significant smart phone market share for Intel is uncertain, but Medfield clearly demonstrates that it is possible," he added.