Chip Wars 2.0 - Intel's Quark takes aim at ARM, IoT

September 10, 2013 OpenSystems Media

A couple of months ago I was attempting to get in touch with my Intel engineering contact for some quotes on COM Express, and a mutual acquaintance told me, “he’s really busy working on some super-secret Intel stuff.” Today, I found out that “super-secret Intel stuff” is called Quark.

To kick off IDF 2013 in San Francisco, Intel CEO Brian Kraznich unveiled some of his company’s “Quarks,” the first working SoCs based on 14 nm process technology. Although Kraznich and Intel President Renee James offered little by way of schematic details, they did allow that the Quark processors measure in at 1/5 the size and consume only 10 percent of the power of Intel’s Atom line.

Although wearable computers were the most notable Quark demonstration of the day, Kraznich also stated that “[Intel's] strategy is to lead in every segment of computing,” and that Quark “is designed for the Internet of Things.” What occurred to me following that assertion was that a marriage of Quark and the Intelligent Systems Framework gives Intel the scalability to get to multiple Internet of Things (IoT) products to market quickly – maybe quickly enough to lock out competition. It remains to be seen whether Intel can combine economies of scale and Quark’s 14 nm process to turn profit in the IoT space, considering many of its applications require chips in the $1 USD price range.

Somewhat related to the IoT and just as intriguing is the fact that Quark also lands squarely in ARM’s embedded kitchen, and will compete with architectures like the Cortex-M and -R on size, power consumption, and, presumably, cost (James defined Quark as “literally disposable technology”). To be accurate, ARM offerings have been climbing into higher-performance applications typically occupied by x86 for a while now; for example, AMD announced the 64-bit Hierofalcon SoC based on quad- or octal-core Cortex-A57 cores on Monday as part of their “ambidextrous” product roadmap. If today is any indication, it appears that the Intel response to do what they do best and use Moore’s Law to run ARM out of the room – even at the expense of press time for the engineers.

Quark-based products are slated to ship in 2014, but round two of the chip wars is already heating up.


Brandon Lewis, Technology Editor
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