Intel Arrandale Core i5 and Core i3 Mobile Unveiled

Introduction and Specifications

Looking back at silicon innovation over the past decade, you'll notice three primary design targets that tend to dominate industry motivation and trends - power consumption, price and performance.  As processor technologies evolve and new technologies are invented, there are rare moments in time when an innovation can hit upon all three design targets, unless of course you're in marketing and actually believe all that Kool-Aid you're feeding the customer base.  Usually, true innovation is required to deliver lower power, lower cost and higher performance together, though through simple optimization and iteration, you can typically capitalize on one or two of the three. 

For many years now, notebook architectures have followed a relatively iterative track.  New processor cores were developed for notebooks and companion chipsets were delivered to support these new CPU core architectures. In reality, high-level architecture didn't change much really until Intel's Mobile Core i7 (Lynnfield) series processor came to market.  With an integrated memory controller, Intel's Clarksfield architecture, took Intel's 3-chip mobile platform, to a two-chip approach that was primarily a performance play more than anything else but also drove some cost out of the solution as well.

Late this year however, Intel began to roll out the beginnings of a more innovative design approach for the market with their new Pinetrail platform.  With even higher levels of integration, the new Atom N450 is comprised of not only an on-chip memory controller but also a graphics core as well, built into a single-chip, monolithic (single die) solution.  Not only does the platform offer a bit more in terms of raw performance coupled with generally lower power consumption but with reduced design complexity, will offer a lower cost model moving forward.  Of course, with the popularity of netbooks lately, this latest release bodes very well for Intel but the notebook market, though infused with a robust high-end platform recently with Core i7 Mobile variants, needed something more highly integrated as well. 

What Intel is rolling out today with the Core i5 Mobile processor, is once again radically different.  Like Pinetrail for netbooks, Intel's new Arrandale processor combines both an integrated memory controller (DDR3) and GPU (graphics processor) on the same package as the main processor.  Though it's not a monolithic device but is built upon multi-chip module packaging, it does allow these primary functional blocks to coexist in a single chip footprint or socket.  Targeted more to the mainstream market, Intel's Core i5 Mobile processor should by all rights offer the "trifecta" of semiconductor technology innovation - higher performance, lower power and a better cost model.  Since this is an early product launch announcement, lower pricing will have to shake out at the retail level before we can judge but we certainly can look at the other two aspects of performance and power consumption here and determine if Intel has delivered something truly innovative.  Let's have a look...

Intel Core i5 "Arrandale" Mobile Processors
Specifications & Features

The Core i5 5XX series of processors is built with the two-die multi-chip package seen above and the actual processor core (left) is smaller than the graphics and DDR3 memory controller die (right), primarily since it's built on Intel's new 32nm manufacturing process, versus the 45nm process that the GPU and memory controller are built on.  The Core i5 5XX series is a dual core processor design with Intel HyperThreading technology on board, that allows it to process 4 threads simultaneously, presenting the operating system with four CPU resources (two logical and two physical cores).  Also, like Intel's Core i7 Mobile processor, this chip supports Intel's Turbo Boost technology on a per-core basis, allowing dynamic clock gating for higher clock speeds with lightly threaded workloads and lower, balanced clock speeds for multi-threaded applications that would benefit more from additional threading resources.  Let's have a closer look at the system architecture next.

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