Peek-A-Boo Look At Intel's Atom Processor - InformationWeek

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8/20/2008
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Roger Smith
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Peek-A-Boo Look At Intel's Atom Processor

In an Intel Developer Forum session titled "Splitting The Atom: A Peek Into The Intel Atom Processor" on Wednesday in San Francisco, Intel Fellow Dr. Shreekant (Ticky) Thakkar and Belliappa Kuttanna, the chief architect of Intel's Atom processor, discussed the technological hurdles Intel overcame in the Atom.

In an Intel Developer Forum session titled "Splitting The Atom: A Peek Into The Intel Atom Processor" on Wednesday in San Francisco, Intel Fellow Dr. Shreekant (Ticky) Thakkar and Belliappa Kuttanna, the chief architect of Intel's Atom processor, discussed the technological hurdles Intel overcame in the Atom.Atom was designed by Intel to enable a new generation of continually connected mobile Internet devices, as well as another new category of low-cost, Internet-centric notebooks that the chipmaker calls "netbooks" and basic Internet-centric desktop PCs that it dubs "nettops."

Atom is part of a collection of chips designed to enable Internet experiences in pocketable devices. The 45-nanometer Intel Atom processors pack a hefty 47 million transistors on a single chip that measures less than 26 millimeters, which makes them Intel's smallest and lowest-power processors yet.

Here are highlights of the Technology Insight presentation:

The Atom processor was developed specifically for targeted performance and low power while maintaining full Intel microarchitecture instruction set compatibility. Designed from the ground up, this new microarchitecture had one guiding principle during development, which is to drastically reduce power consumption without sacrificing performance. Explaining how Atom processors make use of multiple threads for better performance and increased system responsiveness, Thakkar said that this translates into scalable performance and increased power efficiency, especially for tasks like fast Web page rendering or multimedia and gaming applications.

The Atom chips boast low thermal design power enabled by improved power management technologies. Low TDP means the Atom chips consume less power, leading to less heat that needs to be dissipated, making it quieter and easier to cool. This gives the new chip the ability to deliver high performance to run the Internet and a broad range of software applications on a small form factor.

Neither Thakkar nor Kuttanna would answer one audience member's question about whether Intel was planning a "tick-tock" strategy for the Atom processor, similar to the one announced for the new Nehalem processor. Intel's tick-tock strategy aims to shrink processor size with a new manufacturing process in odd years, and roll out new processor architectures in even years. "Wait to see in Moorestown," Thakkar responded. The next generation of handheld devices will run on Intel's upcoming mobile Internet device platform, Moorestown, which analysts say should be available in 2010. Moorestown will combine a computer processor, graphics processing unit, and memory controllers into one chip; it will be 50% smaller and consume 50% less energy than Intel's current platform used in mobile devices.

For more on the Intel processor road map, see:

Antone Gonsalves' InformationWeek article "Intel Road Map Stretches From Quad Cores To Mobile Internet"

"Deciphering Intel Code Words For Mobile Internet Devices"

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