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Intel is readying the next phase in its Atom journey

The tiny Atom processor is somewhat of an enigma over at Intel. In mid-July, Intel CEO Paul Otellini was quoted as saying, "[Atom] is less than a third of the performance of our Centrino [high-end mobile processor]. You’re dealing with something that most of us wouldn’t use."

However, Intel's Chief Financial Officer Stacy Smith reported a week ago that, "Atom is off to a very, very rapid start, far exceeding our expectations when we started the year. It's the perfect recession product to have in the marketplace." The fact that Intel can extract 2,500 Atom processors from a single silicon wafer makes for some pretty hefty profit margins and could be the reason why Intel's CFO is singing a different tune than the CEO.

Regardless of what internal opinion of the Atom processor is at Intel, the roadmap for the processor is moving forward and the next stop is the dual core Atom 330 desktop processor. Like its Atom 230 sibling, the Atom 330 is based on Intel's 45nm fab process and will incorporate HyperThreading technology -- in the case of the Atom 330, the processor will appear to have four cores within the operating system.

According to Register Hardware, the dual core Atom 330 processors will be soldered onto Intel's upcoming 945GX-based D945GCLF2 motherboard which supports up to 2GB of DDR2 memory.

Intel’s current Atom processors are in a number of products including the ASUS Eee PC and MSI Wind netbooks as well as ASUS’ Eee Box nettop.

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By nosfe on 8/20/2008 8:35:07 AM , Rating: 5
something tells me that the guys behind netbust were the ones that wanted to pair atom with the 945 northbridge; i mean come on! a chipset that eats more than 5 times as much power than the procesor itself? (atom->4watts, 945->22watts)

RE: p4
By FITCamaro on 8/20/2008 8:40:17 AM , Rating: 3
I guess just be thankful it isn't an Nvidia chipset. They should pair it with an AMD chipset. :)

RE: p4
By afkrotch on 8/20/2008 8:57:26 AM , Rating: 2
AMD, sure. Their chipsets for Intel have always been great performers. O_o

RE: p4
By FITCamaro on 8/20/08, Rating: 0
RE: p4
By omnicronx on 8/20/2008 9:45:42 AM , Rating: 3
Intel chose to use the crippled and old 945, they could have used a wide range of chipsets with more features and lower power but they chose not too(specifically because of DVI/HDMI), in fear that it would cut into sales.(HTPC's, and low end pc's)

RE: p4
By kbehrens on 8/20/2008 10:32:07 AM , Rating: 2
The 945 was chosen just because it works and was on hand. Intel is coming up with much lower wattage chipsets for the Atom as we speak.

RE: p4
By omnicronx on 8/20/2008 1:54:34 PM , Rating: 3
Intel could have used a number of chipsets available to them.
It was never meant to be a low end replacement for the celeron, even though that is what is turning out to be, despite the CEO's best wishes. Leaving out certain featured assured Intel that the atom would not completely replace the celeron line. Notice the lack of a PCIx slot too, something that could have easily been added as the chipset would easily allow it.

And when it comes down to it, the current economic conditions are greatly helping atom sales, and this is something Intel did not taking into consideration when they paired the atom with the 945 chipset when they started development.

RE: p4
By Roy2001 on 8/20/2008 1:27:03 PM , Rating: 2
945G TDP is 20W but it eats MUCH less power when it is paired with Atom. MSI Wind PC peak power usage is 35W. Check it. Testers of Atom with 500+W PSU should buya 65W or 90W PSU to test Atom system!

RE: p4
By psychobriggsy on 8/20/2008 6:35:15 PM , Rating: 2
The Atom laptops are using a mobile variant of the 945 - it runs slower and has features disabled.

IIRC it's about 5.5W TDP.

However I agree that reviewers of the desktop Atom systems (miniITX) should be using power supplies that are well matched to the hardware. 120W should be a maximum, it'd be interesting to see if there are any high-efficiency ~60W power supplies.

RE: p4
By sprockkets on 8/20/2008 7:52:00 PM , Rating: 2
Doesn't matter. The old D201GLY2 beats the new Atom 1ghz and Athlon 64 by far, with the D201GLY2 taking only a bit more power.

But AMD wins for performance and power consumption vs. the Atom.

All those people who buy the new Atom board think they are getting a faster board, but pay $20 more for 20-50% less performance and only 5-10 watts idle/load energy.

I guess no one had the balls otherwise to benchmark the Atom board to the old C2D Celeron 220.

RE: p4
By theapparition on 8/20/2008 9:13:03 AM , Rating: 2
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the GX has internal graphics. 26watts for the logic system doesn't seem to shabby to me.
Probably can build a complete system under 50watts.

RE: p4
By nosfe on 8/20/2008 9:20:29 AM , Rating: 5
the 780G uses 11wats and is far far superior to the 945

RE: p4
By omnicronx on 8/20/2008 9:42:10 AM , Rating: 3
There are two 945 chipset variants, the 945GC and the 945GSE.
The GC is the desktop variant and the GSE is the laptop variant.
The GSE model, which is used in laptops like the EEE only consume about 6W of power..

Thats only 10W for both the chipset and processor, which is pretty impressive, its just too bad Intel doesnt want the atom to have DVI or HDMI or it will cut into its midrange sales too much... This is the reason the GC 26w versions is currently the only desktop variant for the atom.

RE: p4
By ltcommanderdata on 8/20/2008 10:26:39 AM , Rating: 2
Intel should have been smarter. The 945GC wasn't a specially designed variant for Atom. It already existed as a low cost version of the 945G for use with 800MHz FSB versions of Core 2 Duo and Pentium Dual Cores.

If Intel wanted to use an existing desktop chipset with Atom, they should have chose the 945GT. The GT is basically an overclocked mobile 945GM, and the GT was actually Intel's last foray into mobile on desktop applications. The 945GT was used to bring Yonah based Core Duos onto desktops to offer a low power alternative to Netburst before Core 2 Duo launched. The great thing about the 945GT is that it's TDP is 15W compared to the 22W of the 945GC. For comparison the original 945GM has a TDP of 12W and the 780G has a TDP of 11W.

The 945GT was specifically designed for mobile on desktop applications and can't be much more expensive than the 945GC. Why they didn't use it is beyond me.

RE: p4
By yuchai on 8/20/2008 11:19:28 AM , Rating: 2

Are there any actual differences between the chipsets beside the power consumption?

Poor choice of words
By bribud on 8/20/2008 8:43:09 AM , Rating: 3
You’re dealing with something that most of us wouldn’t use.

I don't think that is a very smart statement to give about one of their own technologies. It may be true, but you just don't say things like that.

RE: Poor choice of words
By vapore0n on 8/20/2008 8:53:32 AM , Rating: 2
True. He kinda contradicts himself stating most people wont use, yet its selling like hot cakes.

...and I just bought an eeepc...
I bet Asus will have the dual core by end of year. Wonder how battery life will be...

RE: Poor choice of words
By paydirt on 8/20/2008 3:15:11 PM , Rating: 2
I think he said this in response to an analyst pressing him on a conference call. I also think he said this to snucker AMD into thinking INTC was not going to seriously pursue this type of processor. If he was upbeat then INTC's competitors would immediately take notice and pour resources to compete.

RE: Poor choice of words
By afkrotch on 8/20/2008 9:05:11 AM , Rating: 3
What business is in the business of producing a product that one one uses?

It'd be like Nike spending millions of dollars to develop a running shoe for paraplegic or a pharmaceutical company creating an impotence pill.

RE: Poor choice of words
By nosfe on 8/20/2008 9:13:21 AM , Rating: 2
it really depends on his meaning of "us"; if he means "us" CEO's with tons of money then sure, they wouldn't use it, they'd sooner use an X301/MBA/whatever

RE: Poor choice of words
By noirsoft on 8/20/2008 9:17:42 AM , Rating: 4
As I see it, Intel developed the Atom for things like set-top boxes, smart routers and other embedded markets. Hence, when a press person asks them if they expect it to cut sales from a mainstream high-performance chip, the answer given makes sense.

The success of netbooks has surprised most people. I think the plethora of different sizes / price points shows that manufacturers are taking the shotgun approach to finding the sweet spot.

RE: Poor choice of words
By masher2 on 8/20/2008 10:13:36 AM , Rating: 3
> " It may be true, but you just don't say things like that. "

I don't think its true, actually. In 3-4 years, I think Intel will be admitting Atom is their future, not Core2 and its children.

Just the beginning...
By Smokey159 on 8/20/2008 10:06:18 AM , Rating: 3
I think the important thing to remember here is that the Atom is very early in its life cycle. Sure, maybe it wasn't intended for standard desktop PC's, however as this new technology evolves and grows, it may become the new standard for future PCs due to a (currently) unforeseen breakthrough.

"Often the best things in life are completely unplanned." -My Dad

RE: Just the beginning...
By killerroach on 8/20/2008 10:13:05 AM , Rating: 5
I hope not, as Atom's in-order design simply doesn't have the horsepower for all-purpose desktop processing tasks.

That being said... considering Nehalem's power gating, could you imagine an Atom core being grafted onto a Nehalem processor and throttling down to that for idle tasks? That sort of flexibility is the stuff some computer users would kill for.

RE: Just the beginning...
By sefsefsefsef on 8/20/2008 12:12:18 PM , Rating: 3
I hope not, as Atom's in-order design simply doesn't have the horsepower for all-purpose desktop processing tasks.

I'm saddened by the world's addiction to out-of-order processing. It's only one route to great performance, one that favors single-threaded operation, which hopefully will die soon. I can't wait for software developers to actually embrace multi-threaded programming as it should be done, so they will start to care more about total throughput of a chip, rather than just having one thread race to the end of its code stream. I will celebrate the day when Intel/AMD's flagship product goes back to in-order processing. I'm gunning for massively multi-core, multi-threaded, in-order chips, like the XBox 360's CPU started to do (and Sun's Niagara 2 does, but that's kind of an application-specific CPU).

RE: Just the beginning...
By sprockkets on 8/20/2008 8:56:05 PM , Rating: 2
So you are for thread level parallelism but against instruction level parallelism? I think you want both.

Sometimes making a good running program is a bug free program, then a fast bug free program. If you want developers developers developers developers to be able to make better programs, perhaps you want RISC or even better, ARM. Watching what ARM does in PDAs and music devices at what power and frequency is amazing.

Intel would rather fix the CPU and use x86, while ARM fixed both.

RE: Just the beginning...
By HsiKai on 8/20/2008 1:49:52 PM , Rating: 3
"Often the best things in life are completely unplanned." -My Dad

Sounds like an excuse not to use a rubber to me. =)

New Chipset
By pauldovi on 8/20/2008 10:23:22 AM , Rating: 3
The Atom, in all its glory, is useless without a smaller low profile chipset.

RE: New Chipset
By FishTankX on 8/20/2008 6:47:20 PM , Rating: 2
I think it'd be nicest if intel chose to integrate a north bridge, south bridge, and 2d graphics engine (and maybe an extremley cut down 3d graphics engine) onto the packaging. Not the die, but the packaging. this would save drastically on motherboard design complexity.

Do they care now?
By Oralen on 8/21/2008 12:26:53 PM , Rating: 2
I think most people at Intel did not care much for Atom when it came out:

It was a first gen product whose future was ultimately to compete against ARM, but who is'nt ready to do that yet.

Besides, while they where creating it, playing with a simple, low consumption core might have given them some insight for other projects like Larrabee: lots of Simple Cores playing nice together.

Even power consumption is not that low when you compare it to the Athlon 2000+, and AMD didn't do anything to their architecture except underclock it as low as they could.

To them, it was just a project with future potential. And since it is so small they could save a lot on production, they thought: "Let's release it. Even if it does'nt sell well, it will be a foot in the door. It's never too early to get back some of our development costs."

But... In the mean time, the EEE PC had been released.

And all of a sudden, everybody wants one of those cheap tiny machines...

And they start selling truckloads of Atom.


But in the corporate world, when your job is to try to predict the market and plan your product release years in advance, there is no such thing as a good surprise.

A surprise is something you could'nt predict, and all of a sudden you have to start looking at your carefully planned roadmap, and ask yourself: "What can I keep, what must I change, and how fast can I change it?"

And then you get some reactions like we have seen: they can't agree on what they should say about Atom, one guy tries to do damage control and instead says something disparaging about it...

Of course they could have made a better chipset for it.

But why would they have done? They where not expecting it to sell!

I think they where just genuinely surprised.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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