Monday, March 3, 2008

Intel Intros New Atom Chip Line, Possible iPhone Candidate?

Intel tonight kicked off Germany's CeBIT expo with the unveiling of Atom, a new processor line specifically tailored towards ultra-mobile PCs, mobile Internet devices (MIDs), and other handhelds. Previously nicknamed either Silverthorne or Diamondville, the processor series is built on the same 45 nanometer manufacturing process as newer Core 2 chips and shares the same instruction set, but is far smaller: a single US penny is large enough to fit 11 Atom processor dies, Intel touts. While simpler at 47 million transistors, this and size reduction techniques reduce its power use to between 0.6 and 2.5 watts, enough to fit in very small spaces.

The newly unified product line varies in clock speed and features. The basic Atom processor, based on Silverthorne, is designed for the smallest category and clocks as high as 1.8GHz while still maintaining the 2.5-watt power usage. An Atom variant built on Diamondville will initially clock at 1.6GHz but should run faster as well as at higher power; this is intended for very small notebooks such as ASUS' Eee PC as well as a new category of Internet-focused, minimalist desktops.

A new version of its overall mobile platform, Centrino Atom, will accompany both of these variants and will be one of the first to require a specific physical design, according to Intel. Previously nicknamed Menlow, the technology includes both a main chipset as well as specific chipsets for either 3G cellular access, Wi-Fi, or long-range WiMAX; the device using the platform must also have a 6.5-inch screen or smaller, measure one inch thick or less, and support running solely on battery power.

Intel has not outlined when the first Atom-based devices will be available, though these are expected to launch during the spring and will likely include new variants on the Eee PC as well as rival devices from Acer, GigaByte, and other manufacturers looking to release very small notebooks and handhelds. Apple is also rumored to be using Atom for "multiple products" throughout 2008, one of which would include a multi-touch tablet roughly 50 percent larger than the iPhone.

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