Netbooks have been one of the biggest technology stories over the last couple of years. The concept is simple: build a lightweight, compact, and affordable mobile computer that is just powerful enough to check for email and surf the internet. Intel enabled the explosion of the netbook market with its low-voltage Atom processors and currently holds a dominant position in this rapidly growing segment.
Although current Atom processors consume very little power, their supporting chipsets do not.For example, while the Atom N270 processor has a 2.5W TDP (Thermal Design Power), the 945GSE chipset and 82801GBM (ICH7M) I/O controller it is usually paired up with is rated for 9.3W. Intel currently builds Atom processors on a 45nm process, but the chipset itself is built on a much older 90nm process.
To address this issue, Intel has been working on a next-generation Atom chip codenamed Pineview. The new chip integrates the DDR2 memory controller and graphics processor on the CPU die. Not only this this reduce power consumption, it also dramatically lowers production costs by reducing the number of chips needed.
Further cost savings are achievable by using four-layer Printed Circuit Boards, since the new chips require less complicated routing. It is expected that these savings will be passed on to consumers.
Intel is citing a 20% reduction in average power consumption and 60% smaller package size as enabling new smaller and thinner netbook form factors. The company recommends that its Atom CPUs only be used in mobile computers with a maximum screen size of 10.2 inches. Notebooks larger than that should be equipped with an Ultra-Low Voltage CPU instead.
Pineview chips are designed to be used with the NM10 Express Chipset to form the Pine Trail platform. The NM10 chip supports eight USB 2.0 ports, two 3Gbps SATA ports, two 32-bit PCIe slots, four PCIe lanes, and Intel's HD Audio.
Intel has announced three new Pineview chips: D510, D410, and N450. The D series chips are designed for net-tops (entry-level desktop PCs), while N series chips are designated for netbooks. The D510 is a dual core CPU with 1MB of L2 cache and a 15W total TDP (including chipset), while the D410 is a single-core CPU with 512KB of L2 cache and a 12-watt total TDP (including chipset).
The N450 is also a single-core CPU with 512KB of L2 cache, but features a total system TDP of 7W with the chipset. All three chips are clocked at 1.66GHz. Pricing will be announced on January 4th as Pine Trail becomes available in computers from OEMs including ASUS, Acer, Dell, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Samsung and MSI.
“The Intel Atom processor has fueled an entirely new category of computing over the last year and a half and we think the growth will continue for devices like netbooks and entry-level PCs built around basic computing and Internet usage models,” said Mooly Eden, Intel's Corporate Vice President and the General Manager of Intel's PC Client Group.
“We're excited to be delivering the next-generation Atom platform and working across the industry as we head into a second phase of growth, powering innovative new system designs with better performance, smaller footprints and better battery life,"
Intel will also be launching its new 32nm Clarkdale and Arrandale CPUs within the next few weeks. Both chips integrate a DDR3 memory controller and GPU on the packaging, although those portions are being built on a 45nm process. Mass production has started at Intel's D1C and D1D fabs in Hillsboro, Oregon.
Atom CPUs will begin the transition to the 32nm node in late 2010, but might not make it to market until early 2011. Intel hopes to have Atom chips available sooner with the 22nm generation, with a targeted launch in early 2012.