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Sub-Atomic Quark Targets MCUs

September 24, 2013

Author: Kevin Krewell

Intel has created a synthesizable x86 core to power ultra-small SoCs targeting connected microcontrollers for wearable devices and for what is commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). The new CPU and the chips that integrate it all use the name Quark, which comes from the elementary particles that constitute the protons and neutrons in atoms. Intel offered scant details regarding Quark, but it claimed the core is one-fifth of the size of an Atom CPU and consumes only one-tenth of the power, which would put a single core under 25mW in 22nm. The company fabricated demonstration silicon in 32nm but disclosed no performance estimates.

The Quark CPU is Pentium-ISA compatible, bypassing more than 15 years of complexity including numerous MMX and SSE extensions as well as the more modern x86-64 architecture. Quark’s microarchitecture is likely a stripped-down version of the one Intel uses in its MIC processor—a basic 32-bit core with a short in-order pipeline offering limited dual-issue capability.

Because the Quark core is fully synthesizable, Intel has the flexibility to configure the features of the core and to easily target different IC processes. This approach will cost some performance and area compared with a custom device, but the additional flexibility is worth the minor penalty, and the core is already quite small.

The most interesting thing about the Quark announcement is that it shows Intel broadening the scope of the markets it pursues—even including extremely small and relatively inexpensive microcontrollers. Now that the microcontroller market has reached $15 billion, with 32-bit MCUs growing at 50% per year, this industry is simply too good a target to pass up.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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