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Intel targets ARM with Medfield-powered smartphone prototype

Intel Medfield Reference DesignHot on the heels of the formation of their new Mobile and Communications Group, Intel’s first prototype hardware has begun to circulate, giving the mobile market a glimpse of an Intel-powered future. The so-called “reference design” phones and tablets hide Intel’s Medfield chip, designed to take on the might of industry leader ARM.

Based on the Atom processor, the new Medfield chip takes a different approach to Intel’s previous efforts, adopting instead the “system on a chip” method preferred by ARM. Rather than splitting tasks between multiple chips, an SoC works more efficiently by consolidating all functions down onto a single chip.

Intel’s Stephen Smith told MIT’s Technology Review that the Medfield is the company’s first, true single chip system. It’s an important step towards seeing their chips used in mobile devices, thanks to the greatly reduced power consumption of such a design.

The phone you see pictured here is designed to show manufacturers what’s possible, and although any final product won’t necessarily look exactly like it, Intel says they’re are free to use “as much or as little” of the design as they like. A tablet has also been made, but no pictures have been released.

Intel has already announced a partnership with Google, and sure enough the prototype uses Android Gingerbread. The device’s exact specification isn’t known, but the unit tested by Technology Review played HD video and could also stream live TV. Web browsing was described as “fast and smooth,” thanks in part to Intel’s collaboration with Google to optimize overall performance for the Android operating system.

There’s a strong chance the first devices featuring the Medfield chip could be announced during the first half of 2012, with initial information potentially appearing at CES 2012 in January.