Intel will start making 14nm processors by the year end, has developed a new core dubbed Quark, and may license SoC designs to be fabbed by other companies, CEO Brian Krzanich told the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday (10 September).
Krzanich said that the Quark SoC is meant to slot in below the existing Atom family in terms of die cost and power consumption. Quark will be compatible with the Pentium instruction-set architecture.
“Innovating and integrating in a SoC environment requires all the assets that we have,” Krzanich claimed. “We have the best assets in our factories…and we have the best developer network. Our plan is to lead in every segment of computing. Servers, everybody knows, but PCs, tablets, phones and beyond. Segments that are still being developed, [such as] the Internet of Things.
“Quark is Intel’s smallest SoC ever. This part is one-fifth the size of the Atom microprocessor and approximately one-tenth the power. It is fully synthesizable with open architecture and open ecosystem. It is just one example of the silicon innovation that is going on,” said Krzanich.
Intel director of worldwide marketing communications Nick Knupffer later tweeted: “Quark can be built outside of Intel fabs but we prefer to keep it inside initially.”
Traditionally, IDMs attempting to beat ARM at licensing processor cores have been startlingly unsuccessful. For example, Motorola Semiconductor, before its selloff to become Freescale, unveiled its MCore as an “ARM killer”. The MCore disappeared without trace as customers interested in Motorola’s architectures were, at the time, more likely to take on cores derived from the 68K. ARM gained its initial foothold because of Motorola’s reluctance to license any 68K-based processor outside of the few deals it did in the 1980s. Eventually, Freescale offered the ColdFire through a deal with IPExtreme, making the first version of the core free of charge.
The most succesful microprocessor cores based on IDM architectures have typically been clones of designs such as the Intel 8051 and Motorola 6800, as well as attempts to recreate the x86 in various forms. An x86 core has an advantage due to the huge amount of software that already exists to serve the real-time embedded, conventional desktop and server markets, but it is unclear as to whether the Quark will provide any performance, cost or power advantages over ARM.
To improve its chances of encouraging OEMs to use Quark, Intel is trying to build up support from the systems ecosystem.
“You have to understand the devices that this is going into. We have reference designs for the industrial Internet of Things, on the edges, in extreme environments. If companies have their own IP they want to put into silicon we can support that. And yes we have been working on wearables. We’ve been coming with devices that developers could use to come up with their own products,” said Krzanich. “They can come up with applications and drive this product into new markets. We can bring products to market with applications ready to go. You can only do that if you have reference designs.”