This week Intel announced their new processor core named Quark. It is smaller than their current embedded-focused Atom core (hence the name – smaller than an atom is a quark) and more importantly it uses about 10% of the power of an Atom. We can probably assume it also produces a lot less heat, so your embedded devices will no longer double as a Panini press.
Intel has, unfortunately, been pretty vague about the Quark, so I’ll have to remain equally vague about some things. We don’t know exactly when we’ll be able to actually buy processors using the Quark core (Q4 for general availability of evaluation systems?). We don’t know what price point they are targeting (I’ve seen guesses at the $5 range). We can be pretty sure that with the market we’re in that the definitive answers will be “soon” and “low.”
So what do we know, then? Well, it’s x86 (so 32-bit) and probably single core. What?! I can hear the screams now. In fact reading the comments on several other tech sites, there seems to be a lot of furor about how it can’t compete with ARM processors shipping in phones and tablets today and how 32-bit, single-core architecture is so 1990’s and useless in today’s landscape.
I think those people are totally missing the point. This isn’t a processor for a phone or tablet. Intel has even said it isn’t. Quit trying to place it into the devices you think of. This baby is designed for the Internet of Things (IoT) and M2M, and I think it’s going to be a game changer.
M2M – and I’m just going to call it that for now, instead of IoT or the acronym I saw this week IoE (internet of everything. seriously) – is growing. It looks like it’s the next wave of “things to do” and happily, we’ve been doing it for a decade.
Quark is going to enable all of those applications using 16- and 32-bit microcontrollers to run full-blown OSes. That means they’ll have access to connectivity. That means they’ll be able to do local analytics and run local rules. It means they’ll be able to push data upstream to clouds. It means they’ll start participating in overall solutions. That also means they’ll need security, but they’ll have the capacity to implement it.
The core itself is also synthesizable, meaning it’s “open”. No, it’s not that anyone can go in and change the actual processor core, it’s not that open, but they can change the fabric, meaning they can build their own SoC with the Quark core directly wired to peripheral components like radios and crypto devices to further reduce cost and footprint.
I’m confident that we’ll have Solution Engine running on a Quark system very soon and it will be interesting to see how it performs compared to the Atom and ARM systems we’re already running on.
What I’d really love to see is someone building a Windows CE OS for it to give us low-latency, real-time capabilities coupled with the familiar Win32 API. Since it’s still x86, that’s not a big stretch.