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Intel loses its ARM wrestling match, kicks out Atom mobe chips

The Broxton, SoFIA terminator says 'I'll be back ... with 5G modems'

Intel has thrown in the towel on smartphone processors after losing round after round against the ARM architecture – the dominant brains of the mobile world.

Intel today scrapped the development of its Atom processor codenamed Broxton, which was aimed at powering high-end smartphones and tablets.

Broxton was expected to emerge about a year ago as a 14nm quad-core x86 CPU using Goldmont cores. Now Intel has canned that effort – and hopes instead to sling Goldmont-based Apollo Lake Pentiums and Celerons, plus Skylake Core M components, at tablets and slab-like PCs.

The semiconductor giant has also axed work on its mobile system-on-chip family SoFIA, which married Atom processors and cellphone modems into single packages for low-end Android mobes and fondleslabs.

Intel has a partnership with Chinese outfit RockChip, which will continue the development and manufacture of SoFIA SoCs. The first phones using first-generation SoFIA chips have only just hit the market, and second-generation SoFIA LTE parts were expected to arrive before the end of 2016. The project was launched in mid-2014 – it didn't even make it past two years.

Essentially, Apple and Samsung have their own ARM-compatible processors for their popular phones and tablets, and Qualcomm and MediaTek are churning out good-enough ARM-compatible system-on-chips for everyone else. That leaves Intel's x86 phone chips with nowhere to run. Despite spending millions of dollars on x86 smartphone chips, Intel has managed to gain only a minute market share.

The smartmobe and fondleslab world – which is admittedly stalling – is something Intel has had to give up on. It's a sewn-up market with the ARM architecture firmly at the top, not x86 and certainly not x86 Atoms.

Intel sees growth in making computer memories, and chips for data centers and the Internet of Things, which includes making modem chipsets supporting super-fast 5G mobile broadband. Although it couldn't get its x86 CPUs into mainstream smartphones, Intel hopes its 5G chips will land in future iPhones and Android handsets – and that's where it's focusing.

Don't forget: Intel is cutting 12,000 workers – 11 per cent of its staff – and ditching projects that just don't fit the cloud-memory-IoT mix.

Intel spokeswoman Kathryn Gill confirmed to The Register on Friday that Chipzilla is "canceling the Broxton platform as well as SoFIA 3GX, SoFIA LTE and SoFIA LTE2 commercial platforms," explaining this will "enable us to move resources to products that deliver higher returns and advance our strategy."

She said "these changes are effective immediately," adding:

Intel is accelerating its transformation from a PC company to one that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices. We will intensify our investments to fuel the virtuous cycle of growth in the data center, IoT, memory and FPGA businesses, and to drive more profitable mobile and PC businesses.

Our connectivity strategy includes increased investment in wired and wireless communications technology for connecting all things, devices and people to the cloud, and to power the communications infrastructure behind it. We re-evaluated projects to better align to this strategy.

In summary, it's game over for Intel's Atom smartphone chips. Chipzilla hopes it will bounce back on phones with 5G modems. ®

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