Intel's Atom finds new homes in embedded devices, Taiwanese factories

Today, small device manufacturers that don't have their own foundries rely on components makers to provide for them a kind of mix-and-match set of technologies upon which they can base their designs. One of the largest of these components companies is Taiwan's TSMC, which licenses its own intellectual property so that unique device manufacturers can leverage that IP to build their own designs. Up until today, the question of whether Intel could break into that market, making portable handset builders rely on its Atom processor the way motherboard producers rely on Core 2 and Xeon, has been up in the air.

No more. As the result of something called a memorandum of understanding between the two companies, Intel is permitting its Atom CPU core's IP to be ported to the TSMC Technology Platform -- the portfolio of IP that TSMC licenses to smaller firms. Now, these firms can build devices using Intel's Atom as their CPU, without having to also deal with Intel. It also makes TSMC effectively a co-opted foundry for Intel's hottest product line in this lousy economy.

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The move comes on the very same day (gee, what a coincidence!) that Intel unveils its embedded edition of Atom, the Z5xx series. Intel foresees these devices as driving the next wave of media-enabled handsets and automotive electronics.

The Z5xx is essentially an embedded version of the Pentium reborn: an IA-32 architecture device (as opposed to a Core Microarchitecture CPU such as its current PC produce line) that adds embedded virtualization technology -- imagine a hypervisor in your hand -- and that's made using Intel's pioneering HK+MG leakage-saving technology. That's how it can build a 100 MHz or 133 MHz single-core processor at 45 nm lithography without it overheating.

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