At this year’s IDF Intel announced its third major microarchitecture family: Quark. Before Quark we had Core at the high-end and Atom for smartphones/tablets/cheap PCs. Quark adds a third vector, below Atom, with a focus on even lower power, more cost sensitive markets (e.g. low power embedded).

Intel finds itself in an interesting position today. When it first launched Atom, x86 compatibility was a selling point - something no competing ARM solution at the time could offer. These days the bulk of the mobile world is built on ARM code. Similarly, because of ARM’s excellent portfolio of super cheap, low power cores, there are many other markets where ARM is just as prevalent. Add onto that some of the lowest cost platforms to develop on and do neat things with run ARM based silicon, and not x86. In other words, there’s an entirely new generation of platforms, developers and applications that aren’t x86 compatible. Over the long run this poses a big problem to Intel. While x86 might not be an advantage in a lot of high growth markets, it’s still an advantage in many others. Any erosion of that advantage simply puts Intel in a much more difficult position in the long run.

The solution, albeit a bit late, is Quark. The design is 32-bit Pentium ISA compatible (Intel apparently loves starting out new projects with the Pentium ISA), and features a core that should be roughly 1/5 the size of Atom and capable of operating at as little as 1/10 the power. Quark's other major selling point is it is a fully synthesized design. It'll be built exclusively at Intel fabs to start (the first chips are built at 32nm), but Intel made it very clear that if you want a cheap, low power x86 core to integrate alongside your own IP, it'll offer you Quark. Previously Intel provided no such solution, which drove some customers to ARM. You could even speculate on what this means for Intel's strategy as being even more of a player in the foundry space.

Today Intel is announcing a microcontroller board based on the Quark X1000 SoC called Galileo. The Quark implementation on the board is a single-core running at 400MHz (single speed, there’s no speedstep equivalent here). There’s a 16KB L1 cache and 512KB on-die embedded SRAM.

The board features a 10/100 Ethernet, mini-PCIe slot (PCIe gen 2 x1), USB 2 host controller, USB client connector, JTAG header and 256MB of DRAM. Galileo also features an 8MB SPI Flash for firmware/bootloader/sketch storage. MicroSD card support is optional. Galileo measures 4.2 inches long by 2.8 inches wide.

The other big feature of Galileo is that it is compatible with Arduino software and shields, making it a great target for students and educators in the maker scene.

It’s good to see Intel doing this sort of stuff, as it's extremely important to get early exposure to x86 among maker enthusiasts if Intel wants to keep x86 around in the long run (although I would’ve liked to have seen it a few years ago). Intel will be giving away 50,000 Galileo boards to 1000 universities worldwide over the next year and a half or so to spark development. Boards will be available for sale by the end of November, at a price under $60.

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  • 68Namvet - Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - link

    Well, because spoked wheels were better than solid wooden wheels, and iron covered wooden wheels were better than wooden wheels, and rubber covered wheels were better than iron covered wheels, and vulcanized rubber wheels were better than rubber wheels, and steel belted vulcanized rubber wheels were better than vulcanized rubber wheels.....need I go on?
  • fteoath64 - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    "Maybe they have just taken a Xeon Phi and snipping it into sixty pieces?"
    Yeah funny, and add some i/O blocks to it and behold a quark sized Pentium!.
    Yikes only 256MB of RAM there ?!. Compared to ARM boards that featured 512MB or 1GB embedded ram already. This is only good for replacing all those dumb cash registers running DOS. Also, the lack of standard wifi is a Fail for hobbyist board!.
    Very disappointed that Intel with all their resources cannot yet out-Arm the Arm ISA. Why do do a better ISA for low powered better than ARM ?. Not X86 which is little work but think "micro/nano Itanium" designs ......
  • extide - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Arduino's typically only have a few KB of ram. and a few hundred KB of flash. This thing has TONS of storage compared to most arduino's, even the ARM Cortex M series based Duo or Arduino compatible boards. Significantly higher clockspeed than those too. It almost competes with the ARM Cortex A series embedded ;linux boards, and I bet you could get linux on there! I want one, bad!
  • unfortunate - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    They already do come with an optimised linux os.
  • Not This Guy - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    This is an embedded processor. While you could run DOS on this, you are more likely to write directly for the processor. If you need more power and x86, atom is your guy. If your program is bigger than 256MB, you might want want a little bit more power.

    I'm not sure why Intel needs to provide universal wifi for hobbyists when most of us use rf, zigbee or a $10 wifi router with ethernet switch, depending on our project.

    IA64 is, a) a 64 bit architecture, b) different to x86 and x64 and c) slowly dying architecture. I get that it would be cool, but it wouldn't be burning the x86 flame.
  • Daniel Egger - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    You're talking nonsense. 256MB RAM for a system without video output is more than plenty and cannot even be properly used under DOS. Even more there only few ARM boards on the market that have PCIe and built-in Ethernet MAC (they usually key off USB 2.0 like the Raspberry Pi or SDIO) and under 60$ is a real killer price as well compared to somewhat competent ARM boards like a Pandaboard. Regarding the lack of WLAN: That's the last feature a "hobbyist" needs on such a device; configuring WLAN without a fully fledged OS and UI is a royal PITA.
  • Jaybus - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Of course they based it on a single Phi core, or at least one of the P54C-based cores. Why would they reinvent the wheel?

    For the dumb cash register, and many other such devices, reusing the fully debugged and field tested software is the key cost savings for the manufacturer.

    Hello. There is a Gen 2 mini-PCIe slot. Use whatever WiFi you want with both Linux and Windows drivers already available.

    There is already a ton of ready to go x86 software and a huge ecosystem of dev tools for x86. A new ISA would involve way too much lag time when they are already playing catch up. Doesn't make sense at this point.
  • xdrol - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    This is Pentium ISA, not Pentium micro-architecture. This just tells one thing and one thing only: this is 32 bit x86 instruction set. You can bet that there is nothing similar in Quark and Pentium cores.
  • Jaybus - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    I very much doubt that. It is very unlikely they reinvented the wheel with a built-from-scratch core. It is certainly not just a simple die shrink, but is very likely based on the P54C core (that is still being made btw).
  • DanNeely - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Someone over on Arstechnica found a block diagram for it in Intel's documentation. It's almost identical with that of a 486's.

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