New Atom Processors Now Available For Desktop Systems

Intel's desktop/nettop Atom processors have never enjoyed the prestige or sales figures of their netbook brethren, but two new Atom introductions this week prove Intel hasn't written the platform off altogether. Two new Atom CPUs, the D425 (single-core) and D525 (dual-core) are now available. Both chips run at 1.8GHz, feature 512K of L2 cache per CPU, and are built on a 45nm process. Unlike the D410/D510 launched earlier this year, the D425/D525 support DDR3-800 memory (albeit only via SO-DIMM).

We've long lamented the fact virtually every Atom product on the market has been stuck at 1.66GHz for the past two years; this update is welcome news. With that said, it may not be enough to stem the sharp reduction in Atom sales Intel reported in Q1. An 8.5 percent boost in clockspeed combined with the 5-8 percent performance increase we saw when Atom gained an integrated memory controller most likely yields real -world improvements in the 10-14 percent range. That's respectable, but ultimately not all that compelling considering two years has passed since Intel unveiled the diminutive processor.

Intel's Pine Trail SoC

At present, AMD's cheapest dual-core CPU is $36 (dual-core 2.22GHz Sempron/K8) while Intel's is a $52 Celeron/Wolfdale at 2.5GHz. Either of these would substantially outperform even a dual-core desktop flavored Atom. Anyone interested in an Ion 2-powered nettop will welcome this update, but our guess is that it'll take another 200MHz for Atom to actually compete with the out-of-order-execution-style CPUs (i.e. everything else) at the bottom of the market. When we'll actually see such a creature is anyone's guess; Intel's history of Atom updates points to a pattern of preferring power-consumption improvements over performance gains. While we expect to see 32nm Atom tip up in 2011, Santa Clara might well choose to focus on lower clockspeeds and smaller devices before turning its attention to the relative upper end of Atom's market.