Intel's Quark Goes Smaller, Lower-Power Than Atom

By Wesley Fenlon

Intel announces a smaller system-on-a-chip for wearables and, possibly, the Internet of Things. Small things.

What's smaller than an Atom? A Quark, of course. At this year's Intel Developer Forum, Intel kicked off its keynote speech by announcing a new system-on-a-chip processor that will focus on small, low power devices even more than the Atom line. According to Intel, Quark SoCs may be one-fifth the size of small Atom processors, and use only one-tenth the power; Anandtech estimates those chips could be as small as 10mm2 and draw under 100 milliwatts of power.

With Atom taking up the role of Intel's mobile smartphone and tablet SoC, where does that leave such a tiny processor? Perhaps in your toaster oven. Or your front door. Or your smartwatch. While Intel may have a shot against ARM in higher performance mobile devices, there's no way Atom could compete with the millions of ARM chips out there powering devices that need only minimal computing power. That's where Quark comes in.

Interestingly, Intel's not talking about the architecture of Quark yet. Anandtech writes that this "calls into question whether it will be based on x86 – like virtually all of Intel’s other microprocessors – or if they’re utilizing another architecture to meet the extreme size and power requirements of Quark. At the same time Intel is calling Quark an 'open architecture' product, which is not a term they typically attach to x86."

Intel plans to begin sampling Quark chips in the fourth quarter of 2013, which means a full release won't happen until sometime next year. Quark's architecture should prove interesting; if it is an x86 processor, the ARM vs. x86 race could really heat up. At least, among appliances, interactive store displays, and other pieces of technology we barely give a second glance.