Intel's Low-Power Atom Processors

Intel’s Low-Power Atom Processors

Intel’s Low-Power Atom Processors

Intel recently announced its new line of Atom processors, which are being targeted at the low-power consumption and low-cost PC market. According to Intel’s press release, the processors are “designed specifically for mobile Internet devices (MIDs)” as well as new Intel-based computers that will be more affordable and will be used primarily for less intensive Web-based applications (dubbed “netbooks” and “nettops”). The Atom processors are being introduced amid increasing demand for more mobile, compact, and low-cost computers. Intel believes that this demand “will grow substantially over the next several years,” and that “the Intel Atom Processor is perfectly suited to meet these new market segments.”

With Intel making advances into the embedded market, what should the small form factor arena be expecting? There are already a few sites that are showing Mini-ITX mainboards that will support the Atom processors. On HKEPC, the article discusses (in Google’s choppy English translation) the new “Little Falls” platform, which will be seen in the Mini-ITX form factor. It lists 2 possible SKUs: BOX945GCLF (Little Falls 1) and BOX945GCLF2 (Little Falls 2). Both will be designed around the 945GC northbridge and ICH7 southbridge. For more information about the future of these platforms, there is a very realistic and insightful article here. (2/15/2012 Note: Link no longer works)

Intel’s Little Valley uATX board has been quite popular with our end-users, but longevity and I/O options have always been a concern with our project customers. I am interested to see what commitment Intel will have to its future “Little Falls” mainboards. MSI is listed, among two other mainboard manufacturers—ASUStek and Gigabyte, as companies that will support the “Little Falls” platform, mostly in the Mini-ITX form factor. MSI guarantees platform longevity for many of its Mini-ITX mainboards.

About the Atom Processor

The Intel Atom processor is based on a new microarchitecture that was created for small, low-powered devices. The processor is miniature—having an area that measures less than 25 mm2. It will be manufactured on Intel’s new 45nm processing technology. The chips, previously codenamed Silverthorne and Diamondville, will come in both single-core and dual-core packages, respectively. The dual-core Atom will be able to “support a core frequency of 1.87GHz and a maximum TDP of 12W.” Intel highlights the chips TDP in a 0.6-2.5W range in comparison to the current Core 2 Duo Mobile processors, which have a TDP of 35W. HKEPC’s Web site shows that the dual-core Atom will be found on the “Little Falls 2” while the single-core will be found on the “Little Falls 1.”

Now, if you are like me, you might find some of these naming schemes confusing. So, to help clarify, here is what I have discovered:

Diamondville – Originally the codename for Intel’s low-cost, low-power laptop chip. Now named “Atom,” the Diamondville-DC will be the dual-core version of the Atom processor.

Silverthorne – This was also one of the original codenames for Intel’s low-cost, low-power Atom chip. Now grouped into the “Atom” family, the Silverthorne-SC will be the single-core version of the Atom processor.

Menlow – Originally the codename for the now Centrino Atom platform (or “processor technology”), it is comprised of the Atom processor family, low-power companion chipset with integrated graphics, and wireless radio.

Little Falls – I don’t quite understand Intel’s inspiration for its “Little xxxx” names, but it certainly resonates nicely. According to the HKEPC Web site, the Little Falls series will be Intel’s Atom-based Mini-ITX mainboards. This was the only site that I saw legitimate information on the Little Falls. It seems that most of this is still in a very nascent stage.

As for Logic Supply, we will carry these new mainboards as they become available. We will keep you posted as we get development updates from our suppliers.

Comments (4)

  1. March 20, 2008

    Nice post! I have been following the Diamondville and Menlow news for awhile now (well, all Intel news I guess…), but I had not given much thought to Atom on the desktop. I’ve been really happy with my Core 2 Duo MoDT system (T5600) and I, sadly, never picked up a Little Valley system because it did not have the power and I/O was I looking for.

    I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Little Falls. Is it possible that we will be seeing another sub-$100 price tag?

  2. Kristina Bond
    Kristina
    March 20, 2008

    Hi Sal,
    Thanks for the feedback!
    Yeah, I think a lot of people were a little reluctant to move over to the Little Valley as a long-term desktop solution. I am hoping that the Little Falls offers more options and longevity. The Little Valley hasn’t even been on the market for more than a year and we are already in the third revision!

    As for price, I keep reading contrasting views. Some sites are saying to expect a price tag around $130 or so (for the board) and some are expecting a price tag much higher.

    I guess we can only wait and see!

  3. April 1, 2008

    With Intel trying to be THE only CPU company, I do hope that both AMD and VIA stay viable and separate. This is to keep Intel honest, and give us both reasonable prices and better technology. VIA should provide some very keen and interesting competition due to the fact that Atom is an in order processor and Isaiha is an out of order processor, but with a slightly higher power usage. This should provide different performance depending on what applications/protocols are being used, so one should “Choose wisely”.

  4. Kristina Bond
    Kristina
    April 1, 2008

    Hi Peter,
    Yes, I, too, am interested to see how VIA moves forward with Intel’s greater push into the embedded market.
    When identifying the right mainboard for a project, we generally help our customers “choose wisely.” Intel certainly isn’t the only solution, nor always the best solution. But, we like having that option to choose. And, like you, I hope we still keep that option to choose.

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