Forecasting a future with gadgets like video watch phones and wearable computers, Intel Corp. on Thursday unveiled an experimental chip that combines the core components of today's cell phones and handheld computers.
The "wireless-Internet-on-a-chip" technology could enable a new era of wireless products with access to the Internet, extensive battery life and greater processing power, Intel said in a statement released at the Intel Developer Forum in Amsterdam.
Intel has succeeded in merging three manufacturing processes into one, the company said. The chip has a microprocessor, flash memory, and analog communication circuits on a single piece of silicon built using a single manufacturing process. Traditionally, these components are produced using separate technologies in different factories, according to Intel.
Chips produced with the new manufacturing process could achieve clock speeds of up to 1GHz, about five times more powerful than chips used in existing mobile phones, Intel said. The chip is based on Intel's Xscale microarchitecture, which enables low power consumption and high performance. Battery life can be extended to a month -- most of today's handsets last only a couple of days on a single charge.
Mobile phone manufacturers have always asked Intel why it couldn't integrate the components in a cell phone on a single chip, said Benny Ginman, Intel's director for government, education and communication in Europe, in an interview.
"About five years ago we said it could be done, but not in a cost-effective way. In a 0.13-micron production process it becomes cheaper to make a single chip than three separate ones," Ginman said, adding that Intel will start producing Pentium 4 processors in a 0.13-micron production process next year.
One analyst doubted the cost benefit described by Intel, but said increased transistor density on a chip will make production of a multifunctional chip cheaper.
"The advantage of having different processes is that you can optimize costs. Integration is the right way to go, but today it probably costs more than producing separate parts. As the transistor density of silicon increases it will become cheaper to make a single chip rather than three different ones," said Martin Reynolds, vice president and research fellow at market researcher Gartner Group Inc.
"Intel is giving an advanced demonstration (of what they can do in the future); we won't see it (on the market) for a couple of years," Reynolds said.
In the past decade functionality and battery life has been added to mobile devices, while reducing the cost to users. Intel said it believes that its invention will add to this evolution.
Intel expects to see devices such as wearable computers and video watch phones out on the market in five or 10 years, said Ron Smith, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Wireless Computing and Communications Group in the statement.
Intel has plans to take the "wireless-Internet-on-a-chip" unveiled in Amsterdam Thursday into production, but no date has been set, Ginman said.