Intel just announced its smallest silicon yet. It's called Quark, and it's one-fifth the size of the company's existing Atom cores, and uses one-tenth the power. Intel CEO Bryan Krzanich just pulled out the tiny Quark X1000 chip at the 2013 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, and explained that it's for the internet of things: Intel will provide equally miniature reference boards and software to help developers put tiny communicating computers in just about everything — including smartwatches, if developers are interested.

Intel's play for wearables... and ARM

"Yes, we have been working on wearables," said Krzanich, pulling out another pair of reference designs that could fit on a wrist. The CEO clarified that Intel doesn't itself plan to produce wearable computers, but hopes to inspire and empower other companies to do so using its new silicon.

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Also, importantly, Intel says that Quark is "fully synthesizable," which means that Intel might be gunning after ARM's business model with the move. ARM allows chipmakers like Apple, Qualcomm, and Samsung to license its intellectual property, modify it, and develop their own processors based on that architecture, and now Intel could theoretically do the same.

"Our strategy is actually very simple," Krzanich explained earlier in the keynote. "Our plan is to lead in every segment of computing." That includes servers, laptops, tablets, and phones, but also other devices yet to be designed. The company recently created a "new devices" group, headed by former Intel phone boss Mike Bell, to work on such products.

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Intel says Quark reference boards will begin sampling in the fourth quarter of the year, which means products based on the new design probably won't arrive before next year.

Update: An Intel rep clarified that it's the Quark core — not the Quark chip — whose size and power consumption were being compared to Atom. In other words, the actual CPU core inside a Quark chip is one-fifth the size and consumes one-tenth the power of an Atom CPU core. Performance is another matter. Quark is aimed at markets where power consumption and form factor take priority, according to an Intel representative.