Today, Intel has officially announced their Atom line of ultra-mobile processors, previously code named Silverthorne and Diamondville. This new family of chips is based on an entirely new CPU architecture that was designed from the ground up, specifically to address the computing and power consumption requirements of Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) and Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs). Comprised of some 47 million transistors, Intel's new Atom processor die measures 25mm2; so small that you could fit eleven of the cores in the area of an US penny. Built on Intel's 45nm hafnium-infused high-K process, these chips are said to have power consumption characteristics in the .6 - 2.5 watt range, though they're reported to have 512KB of on chip cache and an operating frequency topping out at 1.8GHz currently.
Here's a clip from the official PR...
Intel Announces Intel® Atom™ Brand for New Family of Low-Power Processors
Intel's Smallest Processor Built Using World's Smallest Transistors Designed for New Internet Devices, Low-Cost PCs
SANTA CLARA, Calif., March 2, 2008 – The Intel® Atom™ processor will be the name for a new family of low-power processors designed specifically for mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and a new class of simple and affordable Internet-centric computers arriving later this year. Together, these new market segments represent a significant new opportunity to grow the overall market for Intel silicon, using the Intel Atom processor as the foundation. The company also announced the Intel® Centrino® Atom™ processor technology brand for MID platforms, consisting of multiple chips that enable the best Internet experience in a pocketable device ...
Intel's Atom Processor
Intel's new Atom processors are said to be fully code compatible with Intel's Core 2 Duo architecture but regardless, will have the ability scale down to an almost unnaturally miserly 30mW during idle conditions. At this point in time, the only solid challenger for Intel's new Atom processor is the VIA Isaiah chip. With Isaiah's 's 65nm fab process, 2GHz clock speed and full 1MB L2 cache, performance is no doubt going to give Atom a run for its money but the jury is still out on the chip's power consumption profile.
Isaiah is said to consume within range of the current VIA C7 CPU at around 7.5 watts. If this is the case, Intel's Silverthorne and Diamondville-based Atom designs will likely be sipping the corporate kool-aide a bit longer than Isaiah, possibly with over 2X the battery life. Though we'd caution that obviously, processing throughput of each architecture will of course weigh heavily on these metrics as well.
Atom Block Diagram
More here in Intel's ISSCC White Paper
Atom is an in-order processor capable of issuing 2 instructions per clock cycle and supports two threads. The processor also has 32K I-cache and 24KB D-cache (instruction and data L1 cache) and has independent floating point and integer execution units. In contrast, VIA's Isaiah is a three issue out of order architecture with 64K combined L1 cache. Again, we'll have to see how the architectures play out but without question Intel seems to have a power consumption edge, while VIA notably may have a few architectural advantages.
In 2008 the market is ripe for what Intel calls "nettops" or a new breed of internet-centric devices designed for ultra-portability and connectivity. The personal computing race is definitely heating up and it's seemingly getting more and more "personal" every day.