Intel reveals upcoming Atom SoCs, opens foundry business to competitors

Intel made some interesting revelations at an investor event yesterday. Perhaps the most telling came from chairman Andy Bryant, who admitted to being "a little embarrassed that we seemed to have lost our way." Bryant was referring to Intel's failure to recognize the shift from traditional PCs to smartphones and tablets, and he said the company is "paying the price for that right now." New Intel CEO Brian Krzanich seems to be righting the ship, though.

Part of Krzanich's plan includes more focus on the Atom processors that go into smartphones and tablets. On the front, he mentioned two codenames we haven't heard before. Broxton is a new Atom SoC due in mid-2015. It will be based on the Goldmont architecture, and Intel intends to fabricate the chip using 14-nm technology. We've known for a while that Intel has moved to a tick-tock strategy of process tech and architecture updates for Atom, so Broxton's existence should be no surprise.

Another chip due to ship before Broxton is unexpected. The value-oriented SoFIA SoC will target entry-level smartphones in the second half of 2014. The initial implementation will integrate 3G connectivity, and an LTE upgrade is slated for the following year.

Interestingly, VR-Zone claims Intel initially intended to use ARM-based cores in SoFIA but has since decided to stick with x86. The bigger surprise, perhaps, is that SoFIA will be manufactured outside of Intel's fabs, at least at first. Krzanich plans to move SoFIA production to Intel's 14-nm fabs eventually.

Details on those two chips are otherwise scarce, but Krzanich did drop a few hints about what to expect. Intel aims to increase GPU performance by 15X and CPU performance by 5X by the end of 2015. Those are lofty goals, especially if current Bay Trail chips are considered the baseline. The upcoming Atom SoCs may end up challenging Intel's lower-end Core processors, though Krzanich noted that "we still expect twice the performance from Core."

Intel continues to make overtures about expanding its custom foundry business, as well, and they seem to be growing stronger. Reuters' coverage of yesterday's event quotes Intel President Renee James as saying "in foundry, we're extending our capabilities and we're open for business." She added that Intel is even willing to manufacture chips for its competitors. To date, Intel's Custom Foundry division has largely been tasked with building FPGAs for smaller firms.

Intel's chip-manufacturing prowess is one of its biggest competitive strengths, so it will be interesting to see how opening up the Custom Foundry business changes the landscape. Intel leads the industry in process tech, often reaching new milestones before any other firm. In fact, in another bit of news from the event, the company's 10-nm process tech is reportedly on track for production "by 2015." TSMC and GlobalFoundries are somewhat behind the curve on this front, so Intel may have a nice opportunity here.

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