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Intel unveils Quark: a tiny chip for wearable devices

Jim Martin | Sept. 12, 2013
New chips represent a change in direction for Intel

IDF 2013

During his keynote speech at IDF13 in San Francisco, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich unveiled something of a surprise: a brand new chip family, codenamed Quark.

The Quark core is one-fifth the size of the company's existing Atom chips which Krzanich also pulled out of his pocket in the form of an Android smartphone made by Lenovo.

Quark is said to use just 10 percent of the power of an Atom chip, enabling it to be embedded into tiny devices, including wearable gadgets. Intel's long-term plan is that everyday objects can be made smart, bringing the Internet of Things one step closer. Clearly, it also means a play for ARM, which currently dominates mobile devices.

"Yes we have been working on wearables", said Krzanich, pulling a pair of reference designs out of more pockets. He was quick to point out that it isn't Intel's plan to manufacture wearable devices, but wants to provide the new Quark chip for other companies to use in their wrist bands and other products.

One of the key points in the presentation was that the Quark is "fully synthesizeable", with an "open architechture". That basically means other companies can hook into the chip and add, say, their own co-processor. Unlike ARM, though, Intel doesn't plan to licence the core itself. Other companies, then, won't be able to produce modified versions of the Quark architecture to suit their needs.

Intel has been panned for being slow to the smartphone and tablet market, but with Quark, it could have arrived just in time as the wearable and fitness gadgets market explodes.

Even Apple has made a nod to the fitness gadget market with extra M7 motion co-processor in the new iPhone 5 that will "enable better fitness and activity apps that go well beyond what other mobile devices currently offer".

Intel hasn't revealed many details about the Quark X1000 chip, declining to offer a wattage figure, or an exact size. It might be a fair wait before you'll be able to buy a Quark-powered gadget from the shops, though.

14nm Broadwell
Krzanich also demonstrated a 4.5 watt Haswell-based Ultrabook from HP, which is fanless and said to offer far better battery life than any current Haswell-equipped laptop.

He went one better by showing what he claimed was a fully functional implementation of the first 14nm chip, dubbed Broadwell, which is a die shrink of Haswell. It was running Windows 8.1, reviewed, and he loaded up an old favourite - Cut the Rope - to 'prove' it was working. Again, no technical details were given, but he assured the audience that CPUs would be made available to manufacturers by the end of the year, so expect to see products in early 2014.

 

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