Report: Next-gen Intel Atoms tinier, cooler -- but only modestly faster

Two-chip design should enable cheaper, thinner netbooks, analyst says

The next generation of Intel Corp.'s Atom family of processors will eschew a faster CPU in favor of an architectural overhaul that Intel and at least one analyst said will result in better performance over today's Atom-based netbooks and net-top PCs.

According to a report published Wednesday by the Hong Kong magazine HKEPC, the upcoming wave of Atom CPUs, code-named Pineview, will include the single-core N450 for netbooks, and the single-core D410 and the dual-core D510 for net-top, or mini-desktop, PCs.

All will run at a clock speed of 1.66 GHz and come in single- or dual-core versions, reported HKEPC, which talked to PC makers in Taiwan, according to a translation by the blog Netbook Choice.

In comparison, today's single-core Atom CPUs, the N270 and the N280, run at 1.6 GHz and 1.66 GHz, respectively, while the dual-core N330 for net-top PCs runs at 1.6 GHz.

Despite the lack of an overt speed boost, the new Atoms will have several other advantages, reported HKEPC.

For one, they will run much cooler than existing Atoms. The N450 will use an average of 2 watts, versus 4 watts for the existing N270, while its Thermal Design Power (TDP), a measure of the maximum amount of heat generated, is 7 watts, compared with 16 watts for the N270.

By generating less heat, the N450 will be able to operate in netbooks without a fan. That, combined with the N450 chip set taking up only one-third the physical space of its predecessor, the N270, will enable manufacturers to build even smaller and thinner netbooks, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight64.

Brookwood, who said the leaked Atom specs appear "right on," also hailed the integration of the graphics processor and the memory onto the single NM10 Express chip set in the new Atoms.

"Integrating graphics and memory controller onto the CPU die will help with performance by getting rid of the evil front-side bus that's common to all of Intel's previous-generation CPUs," Brookwood said. It also makes the new Atoms cheaper for Intel to build and more energy efficient, he said.

Reducing power usage will allow netbook makers to offer either longer battery life or use smaller, lighter batteries. Those will both be pluses for Intel, as it seeks to protect its lead in the netbook market against upcoming "smartbooks" running the ARM processor.

The new Atoms will boast a slightly more powerful integrated graphics chip, the 200 MHz GMA 500, versus the 133 MHz GMA 945 in today's Atoms.

That, combined with moving the graphics processor closer to the CPU, will boost performance and make Nvidia Inc.'s Ion platform less attractive to PC makers, Brookwood said.

One thing the Atoms will still lack is hardware virtualization. Intel-VT is required to enable Windows 7's XP Mode to perform well.

The N450 and D510 are expected to be available in the fourth quarter, according to the report, while the D410 is expected in the first quarter 2010.

Some companies, such as Taiwanese PC maker Elitegroup Computer Systems, showed computers running the new Pineview processors at the Computex trade show in Taiwan last week.

Current Atom processors will be phased out by the middle of 2010, according to the report.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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