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Summary:

Intel’s Paul Otellini said on Tuesday night that the chip firm would release a dual-core Atom chip during the second quarter. Intel won’t be alone in adding more cores for mobile devices, smartphones could get multiple cores by the end of this year or in 2011.

Intel plans to release a dual-core Atom chip during the second quarter, CEO Paul Otellini said on Tuesday. “The next innovation coming to Atom is on dual-core,” he said on the company’s first-quarter investor conference call. He didn’t, however, disclose if they would be for Atom’s traditional home of netbooks, or for smartphones or tablets, into which Intel is also hoping to get its chips.

The idea of smartphones with multiple processor cores isn’t a new one — last year I talked to Texas Instruments about it, and earlier this year Qualcomm said it would release a dual-core processor that could hit processing speeds of 3 GHz. Marvell  is also exploring the idea of quad-core chips inside phones and other mobile devices. The goal of such tinkering is to beef up the performance of the smartphone so it can handle compute-intense tasks like multimedia gaming and multitasking.

As I explain in a new GigaOM Pro piece (sub req’d):

Speaking in early January at the launch of the new Nexus One phone designed by HTC and Google, Andy Rubin, VP of engineering at the search giant, compared the device he held up to the laptops he carried around four or five years ago. He was a little off the mark; the Nexus One’s 1 GHz processor from Qualcomm isn’t quite as powerful as the 1.5 GHz Intel Centrino processor that sits inside my ancient Toshiba from 2004, and the phone doesn’t offer anywhere close to the 60 GB of memory provided by the eight-pound machine. But as he waved this phone around, his point was clear. In his hand wasn’t a mere phone, it was a computer.

As the lines between computers and mobile devices blur, traditional PC vendors are building phones and the traditional phone manufacturers are trying to build mobile PCs. But with mobility come constraints — particularly around power consumption and battery life. So the big task for every device manufacturer is figuring out how to cram all the functionality of a big computer into a tiny handset. Many chip firms believe tomorrow’s phones will be powered by multicore processors that deliver the performance the consumer wants without destroying the lengthy battery life such devices need.

So as more vendors add multiple CPU cores to their chips aimed at mobile devices, the computing gap between a mobile phone and a laptop will close, leaving users to focus on features such as keyboards and screen sizes when choosing their mobile compute device. The real question is when this happens. Texas Instruments believes next year is when we’ll see them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something sneaks out before this year is up.

By Stacey Higginbotham

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  1. Good luck with battery life on the plan??

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  2. Yes, the future, i.e. the mobile parallel Browsing as envisioned in Berkeley Parallel Browser Project, is coming. See the article from September 2007 here: http://parallelbrowser.blogspot.com/2007/09/hello-world.html and also make sure to check out the slides http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~cgjones/papers/intel-browser-2007.08.pdf

    tom

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  3. That is awesome! Great article. Look forward to having a phone with multicore processors. Very nice.

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  4. I’m not convinced that just having more cores is the answer. I think it will help a lot but to me it seems the big issue that smartphones will run into will be the user interface. (http://wkontech.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/how-far-can-smartphones-go/) Maybe having more cores will ultimately help in making the user interface better ? Super intelligent voice recognition ? Use of Augmented Reality ?

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  5. [...] the restrictions of the screen size and input mechanisms are not going away. While I agree with Stacey at GigaOM that multiple core processors in phones will make them incredibly powerful, the input/output [...]

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