Intel Atom



Intel Atom is the brand name for a line of x86 and x86-64 CPUs (or microprocessors) from Intel, designed in 45 nm CMOS and used mainly in Netbooks. Silverthorne is called the Atom Z series and Diamondville is called the Atom N series. As of June 2009, the most used chips in the Netbook retail market are Z520, Z530, and N270.

Background

Prior to the Silverthorne announcement, outside sources had speculated that Atom would compete with AMD’s Geode system-on-a-chip processors, used by the One Laptop per Child project, and other cost- and power-sensitive applications for x86 processors. However, Intel revealed on October 15, 2007[1] that it was developing another new mobile processor, codenamed Diamondville, for OLPC-type devices.

“Atom” was the name under which Silverthorne would be sold, while the supporting chipset formerly code-named Menlow was called Centrino Atom.[2] Intel’s initial Atom press release only briefly discussed “Diamondville” and implied that it too would be named “Atom”[3], strengthening speculation that Diamondville is simply a lower-cost, higher-yielding version of Silverthorne with slightly higher TDPs at slightly lower clock speeds.[4]

At Spring Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2008 in Shanghai, Intel officially announced that Silverthorne and Diamondville are based on the same microarchitecture. Silverthorne will be called the Atom Z series and Diamondville will be called the Atom N series. The more expensive lower-power Silverthorne parts will be used in Intel Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) whereas Diamondville will be used in low-cost desktop and notebooks. Several Mini-ITX motherboard samples have also been revealed.[5] Intel and Lenovo also jointly announced an Atom powered MID called the IdeaPad U8.[6] The IdeaPad U8 weighs 280 g and has a 4.8 in (12 cm) touchscreen providing better portability than a netbook PC and easier Internet viewing than a mobile phone or PDA.

In April 2008, an MID development kit was announced by Sophia Systems[7] and the first board called CoreExpress was revealed by a German company Lippert.[8][9] Intel offers Atom based motherboards.[10][11]

Availability

Atom processors became available to system manufacturers in 2008. Because they are soldered, like northbridges and southbridges, onto a mainboard, Atom processors are not yet available to home users or system builders, although they may be obtained preinstalled on some ITX motherboards. The Diamondville Atom is used in the HP Mini Series,aigo MID Asus N10, Lenovo IdeaPad S10, Acer Aspire One & Packard Bell’s “dot” (ZG5), recent ASUS Eee PC systems, AMtek Elego, Dell Inspiron Mini Series, Gigabyte M912, LG X Series, Samsung NC10, Sylvania g Netbook Meso, Toshiba NB100, MSI Wind PC netbooks, RedFox Wizbook 1020i, Zenith Z-Book, a range of Aleutia desktops, and the Archos 10.

Architecture

Intel Atom can execute up to two instructions per cycle. The performance of a single core Atom is equal to around half that offered by an equivalent Celeron. For example, the 1.6 GHz Atom found in many netbooks such as the Eee PC can deliver around 3300 MIPS and 2.1 GFLOPS in standard benchmarks,[12] compared to 7400 MIPS and 3.9 GFLOPS for the similarly clocked (1.73 GHz) Pentium M 740.[13] Atom implements the x86 (IA-32) instruction set; x86-64 is so far only activated for the Atom 230 and 330 desktop models. N and Z series Atom models cannot run x86-64 code.[citation needed] Like many other x86 microprocessors, it translates x86-instructions into simpler internal operations (micro-ops) prior to execution. The majority of instructions produce one micro-op when translated, with around 4% producing multiple micro-ops. The number of instructions that produce more than one micro-op is significantly less than the P6 and NetBurst microarchitectures. In the Atom, internal μ-ops can contain both a memory load and a memory store in connection with an ALU operation, thus being more similar to the x86 level and more powerful than the μ-ops used in previous designs.[14] This enables relatively good performance with only two integer ALUs, and without any instruction reordering, speculative execution, or register renaming. Atom therefore represents a partial revival of the principles used in earlier Intel designs such as Intel P5 and the i486, with the sole purpose of enhancing the performance per watt ratio. However, hyperthreading is implemented as an easy (i.e. low power) way to employ both pipelines efficiently by avoiding the typical single thread dependencies.

Atom Z series
On March 2, 2008, Intel announced a new single-core processor (code-named Silverthorne) to be used in ultra-mobile PCs/Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) which will supersede Intel A100. The processor is a 47 million transistor, 25 mm2, sub-3 W IA processor which allows ~2500 chips to fit on a single 300 mm diameter wafer, allowing for extremely economical production.

A 0.8 GHz Atom processor’s single thread performance is equivalent to its predecessor Intel A110, but should outperform it on applications that can leverage simultaneous multithreading, SSE3, and Intel 64 extensions.[15] They run from 0.8 to 2.0 GHz and have between 0.65 and 2.4 W TDP rating respectively that can dip down to 0.01 W[16] when idle. It features a 2-issue simultaneous multithreading, 16 stage in-order pipeline with 32 KiB iL1 and 24 KiB dL1 caches, integer and floating point execution units, x86 front end, a 512 KiB L2 cache and data transferred at 533 MHz on the front-side bus. The design is manufactured in 9M 45 nm high-k metal-gate CMOS and housed in a 441-ball µFCBGA package.
Atom N series

The Intel Atom N270
On March 2, 2008, Intel announced a low-cost mobile processor (code-named Diamondville) to be used in the Classmate PC Netbook. It is used in Intel’s low-cost Mini-ITX motherboards (code-named “Little Falls”) and in a number of netbooks.[19][20][21][22] It will supersede Conroe L as the N270 (2.5 W TDP) for netbooks and as 230 (4 W TDP) for nettops, each running at 1.6 GHz core speed (both N270 & 230 are single core)[23][24] with a 533 MHz FSB speed. An N280 with a 1.66 GHz clockspeed and a 667 MHz FSB has since appeared. Both the Atom N270 and Atom N280 are single core processors.

Atom 300 series
On September 22, 2008, Intel announced a new dual-core processor (unofficially code-named Dual Diamondville) branded Atom 330 of the Atom 300 series to be used in desktop computers. It runs at 1.6 GHz and has a 8 W TDP rating. Its dual core comprises two Diamondville dies next to each other on a single package (substrate).

The Intel D945GCLF2 is a mini-ITX board that contains the Atom 330.

The Zotac IONITX-A-U is a board that pairs the Atom 330 with NVIDIA’s GeForce 9400M chipset. The Intel Atom CPU, when paired with NVIDIA’s GeForce 9300M or 9400M chipset, is often called the NVIDIA ION platform.

Power requirements

The relatively power efficient Atom CPU is often used with a cheaper, more power consuming chipset like the i945G

While the Atom processor itself is relatively power efficient for an x86 microprocessor, many chipsets commonly used with it dissipate significantly more power. For example while the N270 chip itself commonly used in netbooks has a maximum TDP of 2.5 W, the Intel Atom platform with the 945GSE Express chipset has a specified maximum TDP of 11.8 W, with the processor only making up a relatively small portion of the total power. Individual figures are 2.5 W for the N270 processor, 6 W for the 945GSE chipset and 3.3 W for the 82801GBM I/O controller.[25][26][27][28] Intel also provides the Intel System Controller Hub US15W chipset with a TDP of less than 5 W for the Atom processor Z5xx (Silverthorne) series to be used in ultra-mobile PCs/Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs).[29]

Initially, all Atom motherboards on the consumer market featured the i945G chipset, which uses 22 watts alone. As of early 2009, only a few manufacturers are offering lower power 945GSE-based motherboards to end users, paired with the Atom N270 CPU.

Future

The next generation of the Atom is codenamed “Pineview” which utilizes the “Lincroft” system-on-a-chip architecture and is used in the “Moorestown” platform. It is scheduled to be launched in Q1 2010.[30] It will be used in netbook/nettop systems, and feature a system-on-chip (SOC) with an integrated single-channel DDR2 memory controller and an integrated graphics core. It will feature HyperThreading, and is to be manufactured on a 45 nm[31] or 32 nm[32] process. The new system-on-a-chip design will use half the power of the older Menlow platform. This reduced overall power consumption and size will make the platform more desirable for use in smartphones and other mobile internet devices.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini has stated that, along with other improvements, Atom (specifically Silverthorne) will shrink to the 32 nm process in 2009.[33] It has been suggested that the Atom will be the first Intel chip to transition to 32 nm due to its small size and low complexity.[34]

The next platform for the Intel Atom is codenamed Pine Trail.

Discontinuation

With the launch of 32 nm processors in the upcoming months, Intel will discontinue some Atom, Celeron, Pentium, Core 2, and even some Core i7 models. The Atom 230 and 330 are scheduled to be phased out in mid-2010

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