Last year Intel decided to cease development of its smartphone SoCs and focus instead on microprocessors for other devices, as well as LTE, 5G modems, as well as various IoT solutions. While we weren't expecting a new x86 SoC in the space, Intel did not specify that would be the case: the agreements with third-party SoC developers such as Spreadtrum and Rockchip were still in place. Despite this, we were surprised to hear that At MWC 2017, Intel’s partner Spreadtrum introduced a brand new application processor for high-end handsets, featuring Intel’s 2015 Airmont cores (as seen in Cherry Trail) and made using Intel’s 14 nm process technology.

The Spreadtrum SC9861G-IA SoC features eight Intel’s Airmont cores with running at up to 2 GHz, with Imagination Technology's PowerVR GT7200 GPU. Also integrated is Spreadtrum's own 5-mode LTE Cat 7 modem (up to 300 Mbps download, up to 100 Mbps upload). The SoC also integrates an ISP that supports up to two 13 MP camera sensors, a dedicated sensor hub, and hardware-based decoders/encoders for HEVC and other popular video codecs that support up to 3840×2160 resolution. The display controller can handle resolutions up to 2560×1600.

Spreadtrum's 8-Core Airmont SoC
CPU Cores 8 × Intel Airmont at up to 2 GHz
GPU PowerVR GT7200
Imaging Capabilities Up to 26 MP,
up to two 13 MP sensors
Video 4Kp30, HEVC
Display Controller 2560 × 1440
LTE Category 7
(DL: 300Mbps, UL: 100Mbps)
Process Technology 14 nm

To date, the Spreadtrum SC9861G-IA is the most powerful (and presumably energy-efficient) x86-based SoCfor smartphones. It has more cores, better graphics, and a faster modem than Intel’s own code-named Moorefield SoCs introduced in 2014, made using its 22 nm fabrication process, or the SoFIA chips (designed by Rockchip) launched in 2015 made using TSMC’s 28 nm technologies. Using Intel’s 14 nm manufacturing technology for this new SoC helps to reduce minimum power requirements and die size (which still remain unknown).

The SC9861G-IA is the first x86-based SoC by Spreadtrum, and the development was enabled by an agreement signed in late 2014 after Intel acquired a $1.5-billion worth stake in Tsinghua Unigroup, the owner of Spreadtrum. The chip will not carry the Intel Atom brand, and thus Intel will not help makers of devices to integrate it or make any other incentives to popularize the platform. It will also not invest in its advertising. What is interesting is that the SC9861G-IA will not be Spreadtrum’s last x86-based SoC, according to the CEO of Intel.

“We look forward to working with Spreadtrum on additional mobile platforms,” said Brian Krzanich.

Neither company elaborated on the future plans, and we do not know whether Spreadtrum will continue to introduce smartphone SoCs featuring Intel’s low-power cores, or if they will launch something for higher-end tablets as well.

Intel and Spreadtrum did not disclose when they expect the first devices based on the SC9861G-IA to show up, but only noted that the platform can address both mainstream and high-end handsets.

Source: Spreadtrum

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  • K_Space - Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - link

    Now that is a surprise!
  • witeken - Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - link

    It is, but actually it was on the roadmap for a H2'16 release for a long time, it's just that people have forgotten about Intel's mobile efforts after they quit last year.

    Spreadtrum is also working on a 10nm (Intel Custom Foundry) SoC.
  • edlee - Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - link

    This is a waste, i never buy, let alone let a friend or colleague buy atom based products, performance is soo piss poor for 2017, its a joke. Its slower than core 2 duo from 10 years back. Intel has to stop this nonsense, and just make a lower mhz kaby lake like 1ghz, and it will still be faster than these atoms
  • Darkknight512 - Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - link

    I'm quite happy with the performance of Atom based CPUs in tablets. I own a Dell Venue 8 Pro running Windows 10. I run CAD programs and microcontroller development IDEs on it to view CAD models in the field and flash/debug MCUs in the field. The performance is absolutely excellent.
  • Ro_Ja - Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - link

    CAD Programs aren't heavy?
  • ddriver - Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - link

    Well, I suppose something as ancient as autocad 2007 would fly on it. Modern cad software would run very poorly.

    "microcontroller development IDEs" that's pretty much a glorified text editor. Not exactly demanding to run, also targeting MC platforms isn't exactly demanding when it comes to the actual compilation.

    Try the latest visual studio and see how long you will take it before you smash that poor venue in anger. Atoms are seriously slow. In fact even core m is too slow for the vast majority of professional work. I pin my hopes on a zen apus making their way to tablets and convertibles, finally producing some useful and reasonably priced ultra portables.
  • niva - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    Even if AMD has a competitive chip for ultra portables, which right now they don't, what makes you think anyone would allow them to actually produce a good device that could be sold in great numbers to consumers? We've been down this road before.

    That being said, you do sound like an absolute joy of a person to be around. :)
  • ddriver - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    I don't care about devices selling in great numbers. It has been a while since I bought one of those. My needs and tastes rarely coincide with the mainstream.

    What I'd like to have is a 2 cm or 3/4 inch thick tablet device, with a notebook grade quad core in around 25 watts TDP budget and a huge ass battery. Fast storage for data acquisition, 32 gigs of ram, good stylus support.

    Certainly not something that would sell in great numbers, even considering its usability and current uniqueness.
  • lmcd - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    In other words you'd like a unicorn that can drag your private jet and stows itself in your carry-on luggage during flight. Pretty sure if that could exist it'd hit mainstream extraordinarily fast.
  • Alexvrb - Thursday, March 16, 2017 - link

    But think of all the incentive companies have to build something hardly anyone would buy!!

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