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Intel’s secret weapon: Imagination Technologies

by Scott Bicheno on 23 September 2009, 07:53

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Imagination Technologies (LON:IMG)

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Use your imagination

If early reports from this year's IDF are anything to go by, SoCs (system on chip) are one of the key themes Intel wants to talk about.

While Intel has successfully created and exploited a new market in the form of netbooks with its miniature Atom CPU, that's just the first stage in a roadmap that will see Intel producing SoCs that can not only be used in netbooks, but in mobile phones too.

The problem for Intel is that it's not the only one to have this bright idea. While some familiar competitors harbour similar ambitions, such as NVIDIA with its Tegra, it's also up against some even bigger players that have been in the mobile phone market for years, such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

Another challenge Intel faces if it's to make a competitive SoC is graphics. While Intel is the world's biggest GPU maker by volume, this is due to the fact it integrates graphics into the chipsets you need to run its CPUs. These IGPs are generally considered to be nothing better than adequate and certainly inadequate for more demanding users, who rely on discrete graphics.

But the whole point of an SoC is that you have all your components on one piece of silicon, which can be used in handheld devices due to its small size and low power requirements. And the graphics requirements of smartphones are increasing by the day as user interfaces and applications become more sophisticated.

In order to tackle this problem, Intel is licensing low power graphics designs from a UK company called Imagination Technologies, which specialises in this sort of thing much in the same way its compatriot ARM does on the CPU side of things.

To find out more about this company, in which Intel is also a 14 percent shareholder, we popped down to Imagination towers in King's Langley, Hertfordshire, and met the VP of marketing for its technology division, Tony King-Smith, pictured below talking to our own Scott Bicheno.