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12/21/2009
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Intel Shrinks Atom, Boosts Performance

The Atom platform, which now integrates the graphics and memory controller on the same piece of silicon as the CPU, is primarily used in netbooks.


Intel Clarksdale

Intel's N450 Atom processor.
(click for larger image)

Intel introduced its next-generation Atom platform Monday, offering computer makers smaller, more energy-efficient packages that make it possible to build slimmer netbooks and smaller mini-desktops.

The netbook platform comprises an N450 Atom processor and a low-power NM10 Express Chipset. For mini-desktops, primarily entry-level systems sometimes called nettops, Intel is offering the single-core D410 Atom processor and the dual-core D510. The two chips use the same NM10 chipset.

A major advancement in the latest platforms from the previous generation is the integration of a graphics and memory controller on the same piece of silicon as the CPU. The combo reduces the number of chips from three in previous products to two.

The Atom platform is primarily used in netbooks, which are defined as mini-laptops with displays ranging from seven to 10 inches. Despite the performance boost, the new platform is not expected to change how netbooks are used. The systems are primarily used for basic computer tasks, such as Web browsing and e-mail.

However, the smaller chips are expected to lead to slimmer netbooks and smaller nettops from computer makers. Intel claims the netbook platform is 60% smaller than the previous generation, while the desktop platform has a nearly 70% smaller footprint.

In addition, the new platforms are more power efficient, reducing average power usage by 20% in netbooks and 50% in desktops, according to Intel.

Intel claims to have more than 80 design wins to-date for the new platforms from such computer manufacturers as Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Dell, MSI, Toshiba, Samsung, and Fujitsu. Most of new computers will run Windows 7 Starter or Home Basic, with some systems offering Intel's Moblin Linux v2 operating system.

In addition, Intel has been working with wireless service providers and modem vendors to optimize the netbook platform for 3G data networks. Some telecommunications companies subsidize the price of netbooks in return for a data-plan subscription. Telecom companies offering netbooks include T-Mobile, Vodafone and Orange.

The N450 Atom chip has 512KB of L2 cache and a total 7 watt thermal design power, including chipset. TDP is the maximum amount of power the cooling system in a computer is required to dissipate. The D410 has the same amount of L2 cache and a 12-watt TDP. The D510 has 1 MB of L2 cache and a 15-watt TDP. The chips all run at 1.66 GHz. All the new products are built using Intel's 45-nanometer manufacturing process.

Intel plans to release pricing of the new platforms in January as systems become available from manufacturers.

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