Atom x3 chips target cheap phones and tablets, feature ARM graphics

— 8:00 AM on March 2, 2015

At the Mobile World Congress today, Intel unwrapped a new line of Atom processors for entry-level phones and tablets. Known as the Atom x3 series, this lineup comprises chips formerly known under the SoFIA code name. These chips combine x86 Intel cores with integrated baseband modems and, oddly enough, graphics based on ARM's Mali IP.

Source: Intel.

Three Atom x3 processor are launching today. Each one features a built-in cellular baseband modem and comes with companion silicon that adds extra connectivity. The table below offers a more complete overview of each model's specs. Use the buttons above the table to switch between the three chips:

Specifications Intel Atom x3-C3130 (3G)
CPU Dual core 64-bit Atom x3
Up to 1.0 GHz
Process 28 nm
Graphics Mali 400 MP2
OpenGL ES 2.0
Media (encode/decode) Encode: H.264 @ 720p30
Decode: H.264, VP8 @ 1080p30
Memory 1x32 LPDDR2 800
Display resolution 1280x800 @ 60fps
Modem (integrated) GSM/GPRS/EDGE,
HSPA+ 21/5.8, DSDS, eDvP
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11bgn, BT 4.0 LE,
Input Output UART/SPI, I2C, I2S, SDIO
Storage eMMC 4.41
Up to 13MP/5MP

According to Aicha Evans, Corporate VP and General Manager of Intel's Communications and Devices Group, the quad-core Atom x3 variants were developed in collaboration with Rockchip, a fabless SoC vendor headquartered in China. Intel first announced the collaboration last May.

All three Atom x3 products are fabbed on a 28-nm process, and Evans suggested pretty strongly that Intel is contracting out manufacturing to third-party foundries. When pressed for specifics, she said, "I'm not going to comment on exactly which TSMC process—or UMC, or whoever it is, right, because that's not appropriate. I don't usually comment on partners and other companies." All Evans would confirm unequivocally was that Intel prioritized "low power, ease of integration, [time to market], and pragmatism."

Some of those same priorities pushed Intel to use ARM Mali graphics instead of a home-brewed IGP. Evans said the Atom x3 line was born out of the SoC portfolio of Infineon's Wireless Solutions business, which Intel acquired four years ago. "In that device, there's already . . . ARM Mali graphics," she explained. "And we decided that, instead of ripping that apart, we were going to focus on fast time to market [and] be practical."

For reference, the fastest Atom x3 of the brood features Mali-T720 graphics, which ARM launched last year and described as a "cost-optimized solution . . . derived from the market-leading Mali GPU found in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3." The dual-core Atom x3's Mali-400 graphics, meanwhile, were previously featured in the Galaxy S2.

Intel didn't share any graphics performance benchmark numbers, but its presentation included some CPU performance estimates. Those estimates suggest the Atom x3 family could be quite competitive with ARM-based SoCs from Qualcomm and MediaTek:

Intel says the dual-core Atom x3-C3130 is shipping now, while the quad-core Atom x3-C3230RK is coming later in the first half of the year. The LTE-infused Atom x3-C3440 will follow in the second half. In all, the chipmaker names 19 partners on board with the Atom x3 rollout, including Asus, Compal, Foxconn, Pegatron, Weibu, and Wistron.

The Atom x3 family will complement the Atom x5 and x7 series, which feature Intel Gen8 graphics and are manufactured using the company's 14-nm fab process. Check out our coverage of the Atom x5 and x7 processors here.

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