Intel’s perceived position externally in the broader IoT market had been viewed as a bit ambiguous when the company announced its major restructuring back in April of 2016 where the company cancelled many of its upcoming mobile processors. This was true even if mobile can, but doesn’t necessarily, mean IoT. Perception is perception. Now, the company has made progress shifting the perception after the restructuring and is beginning to make significant improvements in its endpoint IoT strategy. One of those big improvements was that Intel’s modem division won Apple as a customer and is now in about half of the iPhone 7s globally. Modems are one thing, but IoT SoCs are another and Intel recently freshened up their IoT end point processors to make them more attractive in areas they believe they can win in. I like where Intel is headed with this because they are areas I think they can win in.
Intel Apollo Lake E3900- “E” is for embedded
The new Intel Apollo Lake 14nm processors including the E3900 series are specifically targeted towards more demanding IoT end point applications, which include a various array of IoT applications outside of the regular consumer products you might normally find Intel inside. These processors are designed to help Intel’s customers to become more innovative in their IoT applications across different markets including industrial, video, manufacturing and retail. Since they are embedded chips, Intel has given them a pretty robust set of capabilities including the support for Microsoft, Linux, Android and RTOS operating systems and CPU core counts that range from 2 to 4 cores and 6 to 12 Watts. Naturally, Intel is very heavily focused on security with the E3900 series and supports features like secure boot, enhanced CPU cryptography with Intel AES-NI, trusted platform and support for HDCP.
The E3900 series supports up to 8GB of LPDDR4 and features ECC (error correction code) capabilities to improve reliability. Very importantly, the new processor also supports 4K at 60 Hz and 13-megapixel image capture along with 1080p60 video. An interesting feature of the E3900 series is that it can decode up to 15 simultaneous streams of 1080p 30fps videos which allows for great surveillance and video focused applications. Intel is also including their Time Coordinating Computing Technology which coordinates and synchronizes peripherals and networks of connected devices. This allows for the syncing of clocks inside of different devices and gives them network accuracy within a microsecond and improves the accuracy of data.
Apollo Lake A3900- “A” is for automotive
In addition to the E3900 series, Intel also announced a sister family of Apollo Lake processors named the A3900 series. This represents a new product line for Intel’s Atom family of processors that are squarely and specifically aimed at automotive applications. Intel expects that the A3900 series of processors will be most popular in IVI or in vehicle infotainment systems as well as digital instrument clusters and ADAS or advanced driver assistance systems. Intel is currently sampling these processors to customers and will be available in Q1 2017, which means that we could start to see these processors being used in Jaguar, Land Rover or BMW vehicles very soon. We wrote about Intel’s BMW win here. That is because of Intel’s partnerships that they have announced with the three brands in the last year or two and are expected to be one of their biggest technology suppliers.
Intel’s IoT play wants to bring more powerful compute towards the edge with their new family of Atom processors. These new processors, per Intel, are 1.7x faster than the previous generation which is nothing to balk at. Intel is already working with numerous software vendors and OEMs to help bring their new processors to the market including Delphi, FAW, Neusoft, Hikvision, just to name a few. The company is focusing on media-rich applications that focus on graphics and both video playback and capture.
I believe that Intel has a good chance of getting some solid design wins with these new processors because these are workload areas of strength for Intel, even though they are fighting an uphill battle with so many competitors already in the space. Their current concerted effort and continued commitment will be crucial. I like this end point direction better for Intel than things like smartwatches.