Feature Articles

IDF Spring 2008 Update

IDF Spring 2008 Update

Atom Today, Moorestown Tomorrow

Atom Today, Moorestown Tomorrow

As expected, IDF Spring 2008 opened with heavy emphasis on ultra mobile technologies. Today, Anand Chandrasekher, Intel Senior Vice President and General Manager, Ultra Mobility Group, officially announced and launched the Intel Atom (Silverthorne) processor and Centrino Atom (Menlow) processor technology that will form their first generation ultra-mobile platform for their Mobile Internet Device (MID) venture. Intel has been actively hyping up the MID space over the past few months, and we've already seen a few prototypes back in January 2008 during CES. We've also covered the Intel Atom technologies in two previous articles, here and here , so it seems a little strange that the biggest announcement with opening of this year's Spring IDF has somewhat of a 'been there, done that' feel. However, Intel's enthusiasm is quite catching.

While most people will remember that the original UMPC concept (which was launched with the same hype and gusto) never really took off in the consumer space, Intel has a little more focus on what they want the MIDs to achieve, and because of that, they might actually pull it off this time. Instead of just promoting a concept design, which was what the UMPC was, the Atom processor and Centrino Atom technology will form the basis of a platform that Intel can sell. Since the Atom processor is really an Intel Architecture (IA) processor, it's fully compatible with current Core 2 Duo instruction set, delivering application compatibility similar to regular PCs, and with a brand name attached, Intel can push the ultra-mobile market the same way they pushed the mobile market with Centrino.

Centrino Atom will make Intel a platform provider not only in the MID market, but possible going into handheld devices like mobile phones. MIDs are already bordering on the same concept as devices like the Nokia N95. With a common platform and compatibility behind their back, who knows, perhaps the next Windows Mobile device you buy will actually feature Centrino Atom instead.

In our previous Atom article, we mentioned that the Intel Atom processor is not yet in the league of matching ARM processors in the handheld device market, but Intel begs to defer. They are claiming that the Atom processor is the world's fastest chip operating under 3W, and more than 2x the performance of current leading competitors - such as the ARM11 processor.

In terms of power efficiency, the Atom processor will introduce a new Intel Deep Power Down Technology, which is known as the C6 state. With the C6 state, the Atom processors use less than 100mW of power while idle. When asked, Chandrasekher said that we will see the C6 state technology in mobile Centrino platforms as well in the future, but no specific time lines yet.

The 'chipset' that completes the Centrino Atom platform is called the System Controller Hub or SCH (Poulsbo). The SCH will be the companion chip to the Atom processor, enabling I/O, memory bus, networking, storage, HD Audio and graphics capabilities for the Centrino Atom platform. From what we know, the SCH should feature up to two PCIe x1 ports, three SDIO/MMC ports and support DDR2-400/533MHz memory up to 1GB. Its graphics capabilities will include DirectX 9 and OpenGL compatible processing, 400M pixels/sec peak fill rate and is capable of HD decoding up to 1080i.

There were five Intel Atom processors launched today. Technical specifications and pricing as below:-

Intel Atom Processor Launch SKUs and Technical Specifications
Model Z500 Z510 Z520 Z530 Z540
Speed 800MHz 1.11GHz 1.33GHz 1.60GHz 1.86GHz
L2 Cache 512KB
FSB 400MHz 400MHz 533MHz 533MHz 533MHz
Hyper-Threading Technology (HT) No No Yes Yes Yes
Intel Virtualization Technology (VT) No No Yes Yes Yes
TDP 0.65W 2W 2W 2W 2.4W
Idle Power (with C6 state) 80mW 100mW 100mW 100mW 100mW
Die Size 7.8mm x 3.1mm
Pricing (CPU+SCH) US$45 US$45 US$65 US$95 US$160

One More Thing...

Taking a page out of Steve Jobs' presentation, Intel played the One More Thing card and teased us with a PCB sample of Moorestown, the next generation Centrino Atom platform which will fit entirely in an area smaller than a standard credit card. With Moorestown, comes Lincroft, a full SoC chip that integrates the 45nm Silverthorne core with graphics, video and memory controller on a single chip. But, we're still not at the Platform on a Chip (PoC) stage yet, as Lincroft will have to be paired with an I/O Hub still (codenamed Langwell). However, looking at the PCB size of the entire Moorestown platform, it looks like it really isn't that far away till Intel penetrates the handheld mobile market. More updates on Moorestown during IDF Fall 2008.