Feature Articles

IDF Fall 2010 Day 2 - Atoms Everywhere

IDF Fall 2010 Day 2 - Atoms Everywhere



Atom - Small But Big Impact

Just like the atomic bomb, you need very little of it to make a big impact. We're not talking about uranium here, but Intel's aptly named Atom processor. It's not something you'll use to replace your desktop, but it's small, versatile and powerful enough to make a huge impact in our lives. It may not be very apparent today, but Intel plans to put the Atom processor to good use, making it an essential all-purpose processor for almost any application that require some form of intelligence.

During the keynote on the second day of IDF, Intel announced its plans to extend the Atom range of products into the embedded space by releasing the new Intel Atom E600 SoC processor series, codenamed "Tunnel Creek". The new processor is developed specifically for embedded applications such as in-vehicle infotainment systems for cars, smart grid devices and IP media phones. It's also the only chip that features an open interconnect for added design integration flexibility, opening the possibility for vendors to customize their products with their own chipsets. Third party chipsets designed to work with the Atom E600 processor include solutions from OKI Semiconductor, Realtek Semiconductor and STMicroelectronics. The processor series along with an Intel Platform Controller Hub (PCH) EG20T will be available later this year and will cost in the range of US$19-85 in quantities of 1000 for the processor while the PCH will cost US$9. The processor core speed will range between 0.6 to 1.6GHz while its TDP is only 3.9W for its 1.6GHz part and as low as 2.7W for its 0.6GHz version.

To meet customers who need greater flexibility in terms of customizing proprietary I/O or acceleration, Intel also unveiled a new configurable Atom processor codenamed "Stellarton" which is a multi-chip packaged solution which pairs the Atom E600 with an Altera FPGA. The programmable FPGA will allow hardware developers to customize their products utilizing an Atom as the processor core.

CE devices will also be getting better features with the new Intel Atom processor CE4200 which was formerly codenamed "Groveland". An upgrade from the previous CE4100, the new SoC will support 3D video, H.264 high-definition encoding capability to enable video conferencing, HD recording or transcoding, and multiple input stream support to enable the design of cost-effective home gateway appliances. The chip will feature smart power management capabilities, allowing it to automatically turn off parts of the chip when not in use.

Besides CE and embedded, Intel also revealed plans to make available to customers its much awaited "Oak Trail" platform optimized for tablets and sleek netbook form factors in early 2011. The new Atom platform promises to deliver up to 50 percent reduction in average power consumption with full HD playback, making it highly suitable for integration into tablet devices. It is expected that devices with Oak Trail would offer consumers with various operating system choices, including Android, MeeGo and Windows 7.

With all these new announcements, Intel hopes to capture all different market segments with a ready solution based on the Atom platform. Besides the obvious fact that Intel's x86 architecture will render all current code base to be immediately compatible with the Atom, Intel's SoC (System-on-Chip) design also provides hardware developers with all the necessary integration to help them keep their designs simple, lower their product cost by reducing the number of parts and reducing total system footprint with a single chip solution. It's hard to deny that with Intel's full spectrum of solutions made available to developers today, all of the world's devices may one day be powered by an Atom processor.