Pre-Olympics Fanfare

Intel’s IDF show is starting this morning in Shanghai and details of Intel’s Atom release are finally creeping in. Though we don’t have the full details on the architecture quite yet, we do have some interesting information about it to share.
Though the Olympics will be visiting China very soon, there is another show to attend first: the Intel Developer Forum.  Despite all the exciting new technology being shown off for the first time, I doubt it will be quite as popular in the local news coverage as the winter games will be.  And even though we did not fly out to talk to the engineers at the show I have been getting random bits of information and interesting images of Intel’s latest chips.

New Intel Atom Processor Microarchitecture

What we have previously known as Silverthorne is now officially called Intel’s Atom processor; a completely new design from the ground up aimed at the lower power computing markets from UMPCs to cell phones and more.  Intel’s Anand Chandrasekher, Senior VP and GM of the ultra mobility group, discussed the new CPU in the opening keynote disclosing two lines of Atom parts: five distinct Intel Atom processors and a second set of Atom CPUs for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). 

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Intel Atom processor wafer with sewing needle

Though I don’t have the architecture slides just yet, we do know a little about what makes the new Atom processors tick including its single issue, in-order pipeline that is targeted primary for a target power envelope rather than a performance mark.  What might be surprising is the Intel team’s decision to include multi-threading on such a core essentially making the chip a two issue CPU in such a manner that is more power efficient than actually implementing a single two-issue pipeline. 

The design is coming in at under 50 million transistors; miniscule compared to today’s quad-core beasts and will target peak power consumptions of 2 watts.  Yes, T-W-O.  Manufactured on Intel’s 45nm process technology, the Atom CPUs are tiny as you can see from the various wafer images littering this page. 

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Intel Atom processor die

This isn’t the first time we have talked about low power processors like this; just this past January Josh and I talked with Glenn Henry at VIA/Centaur about their Isaiah processor architecture that is targeted at the same market.  At the time not much detail was available on Intel’s plans for Silverthorne and I will be curious to see how the comparisons stack up now. 

Intel also provided clock frequencies, specifications and pricing for the Atom line:
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There will be five different models on release ranging from 800 MHz up to 1.86 GHz with max TDPs of 0.65w up to 2.4w.  Even more impressive is the idle power status of the 800 MHz part: 80mW.  The bottom two processors do not support HyperThreading and run on a slower bus speed but all come with the same 512KB of L2 cache. 

Pricing on the CPUs includes both the Atom processor and the Poulsbo chipset, now just collectively called Menlow. 

The Menlow chipset includes the basic features you would expect for a platform like this: basic front-side bus connection that will run at 400 or 533 MHz, a single channel DDR2 memory control, basic integrated graphics and the IO such as PCIe 1.0, USB 2.0 and HD audio.  It, however, is much larger in die size than the Atom CPU simply because of the 130nm process it is built on and number of pin-outs required by the I/O connections.

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Intel Atom processor in front, Poulsbo chipset behind

Initial Thoughts

We still have much to learn about Intel’s new Atom processors but the way I see it Intel is serious about this ultra mobility market for the first time and is no longer going to sit back and let VIA have their way.  The Menlow platform looks to be a great stepping stone for bringing traditional x86 power to the areas it has not been able to physically squeeze into like cell phones.  I would also expect faster versions of these very inexpensive processors to find their way into all sorts of consumer electronics devices to enable easy software development and quicker times to market. 

Stay tuned to PC Perspective as the week progresses and we get more information from behind the great (fire)wall of China.

Just to whet your appetite here are couple of other wafer shots that should interest most of you…

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Intel Tukwilla wafer – successor to Itanium

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Intel Dunnington six-core processor wafer

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Intel Nehalem wafer

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