Intel announces Atom brand for Silverthorne, Menlow

The creation of the new processor brand sets the stage for the tiny, low-power chips' upcoming release

Intel's Silverthorne and Diamondville chips will be called Atom and the company's Menlow platform for ultramobile computers will be renamed Centrino Atom when these products hit the market, according to a company spokesman.

The creation of the new processor brand sets the stage for the tiny, low-power chips' upcoming release, and marks the opening salvo in a concerted push by Intel to make ultramobile computers a mainstream product segment.

Several versions of the Atom processor are on track to be delivered to during the first half of this year, according to Danny Cheung, an Intel spokesman in Singapore.

The processors are made using Intel's 45-nanometer process, and will run at clock speeds up to 1.8GHz. Slower versions will also be available, but Intel isn't saying what the slowest clock speed will be. Pricing for the chips has yet to be announced.

The chips, which measure less than 25 square millimeters, have a thermal design power (TDP) of between 0.6 watts to 2.5 watts. That number refers to the maximum sustained power that users are likely to see with the chips, not the maximum amount of power the chips can consume.

The small size of the Atom means 2,500 of them can be produced on a single 300-millimeter silicon wafer, allowing Intel to sell them at a low price while maintaining high margins.

While Intel hasn't announced a specific date for Atom's release, Mobile Internet devices based on Centrino Atom will hit the market in the beginning of the second quarter, Cheung said.

Mobile Internet device, or MID, is the term Intel uses to describe some, but not all, devices that are generally referred to as ultramobile PCs. Prototype MIDs shown by Intel typically include touchscreens or slide-out keypads and the company envisions these devices running Linux instead of Windows.

Centrino Atom will include a single-core Atom processor, formerly called Silverthorne, as well as the Poulsbo chipset and a wireless chipset. Intel has yet to announce the formal name of Poulsbo, which packs a Northbridge and Southbridge chipset into a single package to reduce size and lower power consumption.

Not all Atom processors will ship with Poulsbo. Some versions of the chip, known by the code name Diamondville, will ship with two-chip chipsets. These processors, which will be available in single-core and dual-core versions, are intended for low-cost notebooks, like Asustek Computers' Eee PC, and inexpensive desktops, respectively.

Intel refers to these devices as netbooks and nettops to differentiate them from mainstream desktops and notebooks. To further separate these product segments, Intel has set guidelines for device makers that limit the features of Atom-based devices, preventing the chips from being used in notebooks with a 15-inch screen instead of a Core 2 Duo processor, for example.

Low-cost notebooks and desktops based on Atom will hit the market sometime during the third quarter, Cheung said, adding Intel also expects to see demand for Atom processors in consumer electronics and embedded applications.

Intel expects low-cost computers will appeal to first-time computer buyers in emerging markets as well as users in more mature markets looking for a second computer.

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Sumner Lemon

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