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Intel unveils new low-power chip/building block

Silverthorne technology aimed at embedded systems and mobile Internet devices

April 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Intel Corp. officially unveiled its low-power, newly architected Atom processor line at the Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai today.

The chips, aimed at the embedded and mobile Internet device markets, are designed for low power consumption and long battery life, according to Anthony Yung, a spokesman for Intel. The company introduced five new Atom processors and said that they began shipping some to resellers last month.

The architecture, which was reportedly redesigned from the ground up, includes the 45-nanometer "high-k" transistor formula released with the Penryn family of chips late last year.

"This is designed around efficiency," said Yung. "We're seeing the trend already toward small form-factor or ultramobile PCs."

Intel noted that Fujitsu, Samsung, Toshiba, Hitachi and Lenovo all plan to bring sell Internet devices based on the Atom processor, which was previously code-named Silverthorne.

Mobile Internet devices are small, "pocketable" products that fall in between small laptops and smart phones in size and capability.

"I think it's a very interesting processor," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif. "With Atom, we're seeing a low-powered processor that combines solid performance with low power consumption. It's an embedded processor that uses an x86 instruction set, so it will run PC software, like Adobe's Flash and Sun's Java. That will be easy to develop for."

The Atom processor, though, isn't just a new chip. It's a building block that will be critical to a good portion of the chips listed on Intel's future-product road map, according to industry analysts.

Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz., said in a previous interview that the Atom processor will be at the foundation of Intel's strategy. "It's one step toward them getting down toward a power range that can compete with other embedded architectures," he added, noting that the Silverthorne architecture will be worked into future processors such as the upcoming Morristown platform, which is slated to ship in 2009.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., added that Atom represents a whole new processor class for the chip maker. "Power is part of the equation for all Intel processors these days," he said. "I'm sure there's going to be technology sharing in other products with this technology."

Intel reported that the new chip, which is the company's smallest and fastest chip under 3 watts, has a thermal design power range of 0.65 to 2.4 watts, compared with 35 watts for a typical laptop chip. It also has an average power range of 160 to 220 milliwatts and an idle power range of 80 to 100 milliwatts.

Read more about Processors in Computerworld's Processors Topic Center.



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