Intel aims to add speed to Atom with new platform

'Pine Trail' should bring better performance and power savings to low-cost laptops

Intel on Tuesday revealed further details surrounding its next-generation Atom netbook platform that should provide improved system performance and power savings to low-cost laptops.

The new Atom platform, code-named Pine Trail, will move the chipset -- which includes the graphics and memory controller -- alongside the Atom processor in a single chip, Intel officials said on a conference call. Reducing the number of chips should lead to thinner designs, better battery life and lower pricing of netbooks.

The new platform should also improve system speed by cutting bottlenecks that plagued Intel's earlier Atom netbook architecture. Integrating the memory controller should remove the memory latency affecting existing Atom architectures, which would translate into better netbook performance.

Integrating graphics with the processor should also provide faster access to graphics. Company officials reserved comment on the types of graphics capabilities it would provide in the new Atom platform, saying it would reveal further details at the Computex trade show to be held later this month in Taiwan.

Intel's current netbook architecture puts the graphics and memory capabilities on a separate chipset. However, as netbook users demand better graphics, the chipset has been criticized for its limited graphics capabilities compared to Nvidia's Ion platform, which brings together the Atom chip with a GeForce graphics chip to deliver full 1080p graphics capabilities.

The Pine Trail platform is set to become available to PC manufacturers in the second half of the year. Products based on the new platform may be announced at Computex, though actual shipping dates may vary depending on the PC makers, said Noury Al-Khaledy, the general manager of netbooks and nettops at Intel. The new Atom platform should also make designing products easier and reduce manufacturing costs for PC makers.

Netbooks are low-cost laptops typically characterized by small screens and limited graphics capabilities. The laptops are designed for basic Internet applications like Web surfing and e-mail, and also for applications like word processing. Shipments of netbooks grew sevenfold in the first quarter of 2009 to reach around 4.5 million, with the number expected to grow to 22 million by the end of the year, according to IDC.

"We can't be happier with the momentum we've established with this category," Al-Khaledy said. The company has more than 300 netbook and nettop design wins among manufacturers for the Atom chip. Nettops are low-cost desktop computers about the size of a hardcover book.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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