Yesterday, two of the biggest and most feared technology companies in the world have announced that they would be working more closely to build mobile device platforms and architectures.
The press release posted yesterday does not mention mobile phones at all but this doesn't mean that the two companies won't be considering this option. It is not the first time that Intel is dabbling in the world of mobile hardware.
Intel inherited the StrongARM family from DEC back in 1997 which Intel used to replace its RISC processor range. It morphed into the XScale family before Intel off-loaded it in June 2006 to Marvel Technology group for $600 million to concentrate solely on the x86 family.
Xscale processors have been used in a number of popular handheld products like RIM's Blackberry, Palm handlsets, the Amazon Kindle, the Dell Axim range of personal digital assistants and much more. So why would Intel come back to a market it apparently left three years ago when it sold XScale to MTG?
Two reasons could explain this. Firstly, the decision coincide with the formidable rise of the "Core" generation of processors. Intel might have envisaged that one day, Core-based products might achieve the same performance/power consumption ratio that ARM processors do.
Then in October 2007, Intel announced that it was developing the technology that was going to give rise to the Atom family, which is widely used in Netbooks.
Even though ARM still has the upper hand, by a wide margin, when it comes to this performance/power consumption ratio, Intel may be catching up sooner than expected.
The original Atom 230 had a TDP of 4w but the Z500 has a TDP of only 0.65w; this is where its partnership with Nokia comes into play. The Finnish manufacturer may provide Intel with precious resources and the adequate environment to test and produce even more efficient processors.
The other reason why Intel and Nokia came together could stem from the fact that both are working on similar software platforms, Maemo on one side and Moblin on the other. Pooling together their software resources could help create an ecosystem capable of rivalling Microsoft one day.
The press release has several paragraphs pointing in that direction and will be one more visible crack in the 30-year old Wintel alliance. More significantly, the document mentions open source 11 times, showing if needed how important the concept will be to the two partners.
Intel spent $5.7 billion on research and development in 2008 and since it is currently superior to its archrival, AMD, on the desktop front which means that they will be able to allocate much more financial and human resources to retooling their mobile offers.
The announcement of this collaboration came in the same month that saw Intel purchase embedded specialist Windriver for $884 million.