Intel’s low-power Atom processor for mobile devices didn’t just get its name because it’s small, but because Intel wanted it to be the building block for the Internet of Things. In a conference call today, Intel announced four new variations on the Atom processor — including a 1.33 GHz chip and the ability to run Atom in industrial environments — suggesting that we are now exiting the era of the ubiquitous web and entering the invisible one.
Today about 5 billion devices are connected to the web, but by 2015 there will be 15 million billion. And Intel wants Atom to be in every one. Doug Davis, VP of the Digital Enterprise Group and general manager of the Embedded and Communications Group at Intel, said the chip giant believes it has the developer network, the software, and the performance to offer industrial designers a better experience than current MIPS, ARM or PowerPC-based products used in some embedded designs today.
Translated, that means Intel is hoping that the amount of software already designed for its x86 architecture means will persuade developers to ignore the relatively high power requirements Atom has compared to other embedded chips and design it into systems for a variety of devices. Intel listed several applications, such as a car entertainment center, a media phone that resembles the Verizon Hub, and an Atom-powered System on a Chip that is used for tracking railroad cars. The coolest part of the announcements was that the devices for the railroad cars are powered by the cars’ motion.
As Intel seeks to move from the high end to the low end in order to preserve its growth (seriously, if the Internet is everywhere, then how many PCs with Intel processors do you think you’ll need?), it does have some advantages. While other chip companies such as ARM and Broadcom do a lot of work porting software to their chips to make sure things like the web run seamlessly, Intel processors are what the web was built on.
I have my doubts as to whether or not that becomes a compelling reason for Intel to be everywhere, but it certainly is reason for those in the embedded space to watch their backs. As Glenn Henry, founder of low-power x86 design firm Centaur Tech, told me last week, when you have an x86 chip you can take it, put it on a board, find some free software for it online and have a working product on the cheap. That’s a powerful mark in Intel’s favor.