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Intel Unveils Next-Gen Moorestown Atom Platform
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Date: May 04, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Features

A little over two years ago, Intel formally unveiled the low-power Atom processor and its related chipset and platform technologies. At the time, Intel's vision for Atom had the diminutive CPU powering a diverse line-up of mobile internet devices, or MIDs, web-connected tablets, portable media players, and handheld gaming devices. Suffice it to say, Intel's original vision for Atom didn't quite go according to plan. Yes, the chip found its way into an array of devices from video phones to set-top boxes, but by and large Atom has dominated the netbook market, a segment Intel didn't pay much attention to when it first unveiled Atom.

Regardless of whether or not Atom found its way into all of the devices Intel had hoped, the original Atom platform--codenamed Menlow--was an undeniable success for the company. Intel's design goals for Atom were to produce an ultra-low power IA compatible platform, for use in new, small form factor computing devices, and in that regard the company has succeeded. As a result, Intel has sold Atom processor by millions.

Intel, however, had other plans for Atom, right from the start. In our initial look at Atom in April 2008, we featured some roadmap information from Intel regarding the Moorestown platform, which at the was slated for release in the late 2009 / early 2010 timeframe. Back then, Intel revealed that Moorestown was to be their first Atom-based System On A Chip design, or SoC, for MIDs and smartphones. With that in mind, what we're going to detail for you here today shouldn't be a complete surprise. Today, Intel is officially unveiling the Moorestown platform, which consists of the new Intel Atom Processor Z6xx Series (previously codenamed Lincroft), the Intel Platform Controller Hub MP20 (previously codenamed Langwell) and a Mixed Signal IC (MSIC), codenamed Briertown.


Aava Mobile Moorestown-Based Prototype smartphone, See It In Action Here

First and foremost, Intel's plans for the Moorestown platform were to significantly reduce power consumption and shrink die and total package sizes down, to the point where the platform would be a viable option for smartphones and other pocket-sized devices. Concurrently, Intel wanted Moorestown to be the highest performing platform in the market segment, with a wide variety of workloads, i.e. web browsing, media playback, video conferencing, etc.

Although the company is not quite ready to announce any specific design wins, it seems Intel is certainly on to something. Intel has revealed that, in comparison to the original Menlow platform, the new Moorestown platform achieves a >50% platform idle power reduction, a >30% die size reduction, a >40% package size reduction, and about 50% board size reduction, while at the same time approximately doubling performance for graphics, web, and video workloads. According to Intel, this was all made possible by a series of silicon and platform level enhancements at the design, architectural, and manufacturing process levels.

   

Up to this point, Atom has worked its way into a number of different types of devices and a myriad of product families have emerged as a result. Just to clarify, here is a breakdown of all current Atom platform-based products and their intended markets...

  • Atom N-Series (Netbooks)
  • Atom CE-Series (Set-Top boxes, TV)
  • Atom D-Series (Entry Level Desktops)
  • Atom Embedded Series (Embedded Devices)
  • Atom Z-Series (smartphones & tablets)

   

It's the new Z-Series that is the foundation of the Moorestown platform, and its intended for smartphones. Unlike previous Atom iterations, however, which were designed to scale down into different market segment, Intel designed the Z-Series with smartphones in mind specifically, but obviously the platform can be scaled up into different market segments. Intel is simply taking a different tact with Moorestown; optimizing for the high-end smartphone and handheld space, but because of the power efficiency and performance Moorestown is an interesting prospect for future tablets and similar devices.


Intel Platform Controller Hub MP20,  Intel Atom Processor Z6xx Series - Side-by-Side

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Ultra Low Power Characteristics

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Like its predecessors, the Atom Z6xx Series is manufactured using an advanced 45nm Hi-K process, but according to Intel, the process has been tweaked and is optimized for SoC processors and now offers the option to use multiple transistor types and higher-voltage IO. Use of this 45nm SoC optimized process reportedly results in a negligible performance loss, but with a positive side-effect of a ~60% reduction in leakage power. The 45nm process used for previous-gen Atom is a 100% single transistor design, which requires low-voltage IO. Intel's Platform Controller Hub MP20 is manufactured using Intel's proven 65nm process.

While the actual execution core in the new Atom Z6xx Series remains largely unchanged from the original--it is still an in-order engine with support for HyperThreading-- Intel has repartitioned the chip to achieve higher performance and lower power consumption. The revamped core is now known as the uLP Atom core (Ultra Low Power). Many of the functional blocks of the older Poulsbo chip have also been integrated into the Atom Z6xx Series SoC along with a number of additional enhancements designed to boost performance and / or reduce power consumption. Additional engineering efforts were made to reduce power consumption of the MP20 Platform Controller Hub and MSIC as well, with the end result being platform that can, in some case, draw as little at 100uW (micro-watts) at idle--not milliwatts, that's micro-watts.

   

Initially, the Atom Z6xx Series will consist of two parts, a derivative designed for smartphones, with a peak frequency of 1.5GHz and one targeted at Tablets with a peak frequency of 1.9GHz. Additional specifications for the smartphone model include the aforementioned 100 micro-watt idle power (3mW C6 idle), support for single-channel LPDDR1 memory at speeds up to 400MT/s, 24K data cache, 32K instruction ache, 512K L2 cache, HT support, and a 400MHz graphics core clock, with full support for up to 1080P video. The version designed for tablets has all of the features of the smartphone model, but with a 6mW C6 idle power state, and support for DDR2 memory up to 800MT/s. Both chips have a die size of 7.34mm x 8.89m (65.29mm2) and feature a compact 13.8mm x 13.8mm package. We should also note that the smartphone version is designed for ultra-small pocketable form-factors with 3.5” displays that are 11mm thick (give or take), while the Tablet derivative is for slim Tablets less than .5” thick.

As we've mentioned, Intel was able to reduce the total power consumption of the Atom platform through a combination of integration and advanced manufacturing process techniques. But if we dig a little deeper, there are also many new aspects of the Atom Z6xx Series SoC to consider. For example, additional power management improvements were achieved by creating new standby power states subbed S0i1 and S0i3, incorporating an enhanced version of Intel's SpeedStep Technology that throttles CPU and FSB frequencies, and by significantly partitioning the chip and using aggressive gating techniques. In fact, the Z6xx Series SoC has 19 power islands and 12 supply rails, which can all be controlled independently. Basically, if a functional block is not required at any given moment, the SoC has the capability to turn it off.

   

Every Subsystem in Moorestown has integrated power management capabilities and the devices are actively managed through a combination of hardware, firmware, and software. When devices are idle, they are put into low power states and are only brought out of lower power stats on demand. An integrated power management controller (PMIC) allows for fine grain control of power delivery across the platform and the operating system power management (OSPM) helps to efficiently manage all the hardware's capabilities.

Moorestown's new S0i1 and S0i3 standby power states allow devices based on the platform to remain active and connected while in ultra lower power states. In the S0i1 state power has been measured at 8mW, with and exit latency of 200uSec and an entry latency of 600uSec. S0i3's power has been measured at measured 100uW, with an exit latency of 3100uSec and entry latency of 450uSec (entering the S0i3 state is faster because there's no need to worry about flushing data).

   

The enhanced SpeedStep capabilities of Moorestown extends CPU frequency scalability to lower clocks and adds support for a new BURST or “Turbo Mode” that can double available bandwidth at higher core frequencies, through a combination of CPU core and front side bus clock manipulation. Whereas the processor core could drop as low as 600MHz on the previous generation, with Moorestown, it can drop down to 200MHz. And the FSB speed can be reduced or increased on demand as well. The hardware dynamically detects the need for higher Bus frequency and makes the switch.

In short, the Moorestown platform features a uLP Atom core and MP20 IO hub that are more highly integrated and consume significantly less power than their predecessors. However, the graphics and video capabilities have been beefed up as well. Although Moorestown features the same graphics IP as Poulsbo/Menlow, which supports OpenGL ES.20, OpenVG 1.0, DirectX 9.L, the frequency of the max frequency on the core has been doubled to 400MHz. Doubling the max frequency obviously results in a significant increase in performance, which gives the platform the capability to smoothly play back HD media at 1080P resolutions.


An Open Peak Tablet Prototype Based On The Moorestown Platform

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More Features and Performance

As we have already mentioned, the Intel Platform Controller Hub MP20 (previously codenamed Langwell) and the Briertown Mixed Signal IC (MSIC) are both low-powered chips designed to bring the total power consumption of the Moorestown platform down versus the previous-gen Menlow platform.

   

The slides above illustrate what features and capabilities are integrated into each chip. We should add that the MP20 is a 14x14x1.3mm chip with a 0.5mm pitch BGA.

The Briertown MSIC integrates power delivery and things like audio codecs, intelligent battery charging circuitry, a touch screen controller, and analog and current sensors, among other features. It also acts as part of the power gating solution, with multiple voltage rails connected to Lincroft and Langwell. The MSIC also enables fast ramping for Burst mode and enables faster transitions into and out of power states, which will allow more frequent and longer residency in power saving states, like S0i1 and S0i3.

   

In total, the combination of the new Intel Atom Processor Z6xx, the Intel Platform Controller Hub MP20, and the Briertown MSIC at the center of Moorestown results in a platform that consumes less power under load than the previous-gen Menlow did at idle. That kind of power consumption allows the Moorestown platform, when paired to a Blackberry-esque 1500mAh batter, to offer roughly 11 days of standby time, versus 6-14days for competing solutions. Moorestown also offers about 2 days of music playback time versus .5 to 1.2 days for competing solution, roughly 5 hours of video playback time versus 4-11 hours, and about 5 hours of web browsing versus 3 - 7 hours of other products. And that's with the highest clocked, 1.5GHz smartphone part.

While Intel doesn't claim the absolute best battery life, bar none, they are keen to point out that Moorestown gets the company in the necessary ballpark to play with the big guns in the smartphone space.  Reportedly, Moorestown also competes this way while offering about 1.5x – 3x the compute performance of other mobile platforms--at least according to Intel's numbers.


Aava Mobile Moorestown-Based Prototype smartphone

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Moorestown In Action

At a recent briefing, we had the chance to get some hands-on time with a couple of Moorestown-based prototype devices, as well as witness a number of test platforms first hand.

First off, we thought we'd show you a quick video of the Aava Mobile smartphone prototype in action...

As you can see, the prototype is about the size of an iPhone, but perhaps just a little longer due to the larger screen. What you're seeing here is the 1080P version of the Avatar movie trailer playing back on the device. This version of the phone was running an early Android build, but initially Moorestown will also support Moblin / MeeGo.

We also saw a Moorestown-based Tablet from Open Peak and a number of other demos showcasing the platform's performance. In one demo, we witnessed a Moorestown-based device simultaneously running the 3DMarkMobile benchmark, while also capturing video from its camera, and playing back an HD video clip without dropping any frames. Needless to say, the screen was a little cramped, but the platform seemed to perform very well.

Intel hasn't announced any specific design wins just yet, but the fact that we've already held an Aava Mobile prototype in our hands and that Intel and Nokia have already formed a strategic partnership bodes well for Moorestown. Having spent copious amounts of time tweaking and modifying an HTC Touch Pro 2 recently and experiencing every iteration of the iPhone, we're certainly intrigued by Moorestown. The prospect of having what is essentially a complete PC in our pocket, with similar capabilities to an average netbook, but with battery life on-par with a high-end smartphone, is just plain exciting.

We'll surely be hearing more about Moorestown in the weeks and months ahead. So stay tuned to HotHardware for more scoops and news as it becomes available.



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