Intel unveils new low power chip/building block

The chips are designed for low-power and long battery life

Intel officially unveiled its low-power, newly architected Atom processor line at its Intel Developer's Forum in Shanghai Wednesday.

The chips, aimed at the embedded and mobile Internet device markets, are designed for low-power and long battery life, according to Anthony Yung, a spokesman for Intel. The company introduced five new Atom processors, and said that they began shipping some to OEM vendors last month.

The architecture, which reportedly was redesigned from the ground up, includes the 45 nanometer high-k transistor formula released with the Penryn family of chips late last year.

"This is designed around efficiency," said Yung. "We're seeing the trend already toward small form-factor or ultra mobile PCs."

Intel noted that Fujitsu, Samsung, Toshiba, Hitachi and Lenovo all plan to bring sell Internet devices based on the Atom processor, which was previously codenamed Silverthorne.

Mobile Internet devices are small, "pocketable" products that fall in between small laptops and smart phones in size and capability.

"I think it's a very interesting processor," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. "With Atom, we're seeing a low-powered processor that combines solid performance with low power consumption. It's an embedded processor that uses an x86 instruction set so it will run PC software, like Adobe's Flash and Sun's Java. That will be easy to develop for."

The Atom processor, though, isn't just a new chip. It's a building block that will be critical to a good portion of the chips listed on Intel's future product road map, according to industry analysts.

Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat, said in a previous interview that the Atom processor is a building block for a big part of Intel's strategy going forward. "It's one step toward them getting down toward a power range that can compete with other embedded architectures," he added, noting that the Silverthorne architecture will be worked into future processors like the upcoming Morristown platform, which is slated to ship in 2009.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, a research firm, added that Atom represents a whole new processor class for the chip maker. "Power is part of the equation for all Intel processors these days," he said. "I'm sure there's going to be technology sharing in other products with this technology."

Intel reports that the new chip, which is the company's smallest and fastest chip under 3 watts, has a thermal design power range of 0.65 to 2.4 watts, compared to 35 watts for a typical laptop chip. It also has an average power range of 160 to 220 milliwatts and an idle power range of 80 to 100 milliwatts.

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