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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  • Kevin G - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    Odd, the block diagram for Quark doesn't include a floating point unit when that manual clearly indicates the presence of one.

    Not too surprising, no mention of SSE2.
  • extide - Monday, January 13, 2014 - link

    Yes, it does, maybe you got the two images mixed up?
  • xla209 - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    The Quark announcement talks about compatibility with the Pentium ISA, not about the micro-architecture that implements this ISA.
  • name99 - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    The point is Pentium *ISA* not Pentium µArch.

    Pentium ISA means, among other things, no vector registers and no 64-bit. The no vector registers presumably means this is not based in any real way on the Larrabee world.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Why 32-bit? Seeing as ARM (Apple now, AMD 2014) is moving toward 64-bit, this seems confusing to me. Is the Arduino market that vital to Intel's business?
  • DanNeely - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    ARM is only starting to move to 64bit at the very top end; Atom is Intel's competitor there and BayTrail is 64bit there (although still lacking in drivers/windows support). This appears to be intended to compete against arm processors like the M3 which are for much lower end devices than smartphones; the 256mb of ram on the board alone should make it clear it's not intended to compete with A7, Cortex A-57, or other ARMv8 capable processors.
  • Jon Tseng - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Not the same category - this will compete more with microcontrollers than full fledged 64-bit SoCs, I suspect.
  • ddriver - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Microcontrollers won't move to 64 bit simply because there is no need to for the time being. You give in to PR too much.
  • fri2219 - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    The design seems like it'll suck a lot more power than the ARM based boards I've looked at. 5V @ how many mA for a power supply, and DDR3? Am I wrong on that?
  • Not This Guy - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    You can choose between 3.3V and 5V operation for your IO (what you hook up to this board). This is standard for Arduino compatible boards.

    I'm guessing the CPU will run close to 0.8V (thought I have heard of Intel tech demo running at 0.6V at this speed). This CPU also has sleep states, but I would need to read the datasheet first before I could tell you how useful this is.

    I know next to nothing about low speed DDR3, but given the CPU clocks at 400MHz, I would assume the ram will run at or below 400MHz and @ 1 - 1.2V.

    Honestly, a data sheet is your friend.

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