Intel Increases Its Atomic Power

Intel’s Atom processor celebrated its first birthday by adding a few more elements to the family of low-cost, low power processors. The company announced two new chips and demonstrated new features in a next-generation processor during its Developer Forum conference in Beijing.

The Intel Developer Forum (IDF) used to be a twice-per-year event in the U.S., but in recent years Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has scaled it back to once per year in the U.S. and smaller shows in key overseas markets, Beijing being its most prominent. The show was dominated by mobility announcements from Anand Chandrasekher, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the company’s Ultra Mobility Group.

During this week’s IDF, Chandrasekher announced two new Atom processors in the current line, developed under the “Menlow” codename, for mobile Internet devices (MIDs): the Z550 and Z515. The Z550 is a 2GHz processor, the fastest yet in the Menlow family, while maintaining the under 3W power draw.

The 1.2GHz Z515 fills out the Menlow line between the Z550 and prior chips, which ran from 800Mhz to 1.86GHz. It also introduces a new technology, Intel Burst Performance Technology (BPT), which temporarily cranks up the clock speed in short bursts when extra processing power is needed.

Secondly, Chandrasekher demonstrated the next-generation Atom, codenamed “Moorestown.” This is a system-on-a-chip design that integrates the memory controller and graphics controller onto the CPU. Even with all those transistors going into the Moorestown processor, it still enjoys a 10-fold power savings while idle when compared to current generation Atom chips.

“If you look at how processors look and how people use their mobile Internet devices, the processor is not processing information all the time,” Uday Keshavdas, marketing manager in the ultra mobility group at Intel, told “The majority of the time, the processor is not actively processing stuff. That’s why idle power is very important, and if you can show in your idle state you can consume far less power than you have to, you increase the value.”

Intel reorganized the Atom’s structure to allow certain parts of the chip to go dark when not in use. Keshavdas estimates that the new design includes more than 100 such innovations, where Intel engineers looked for saving “milliwatt by milliwat.”

The new Atoms and the forthcoming Moorestown family are all single-core processors. The Z515 and Z550 are available now to OEM partners, while Moorestown is due in 2010.

On the enterprise side

It wasn’t all Atoms at the show. Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of the digital enterprise group, discussed Intel’s heftier processors, including the newly-launched Nehalem Xeon 5500 series and the forthcoming GPU, Larrabee.

Gelsinger said Intel and the industry now look to bring the Nehalem microarchitecture to the mainstream PC and laptop markets with 32nm versions of the processors. He also said Intel is planning the multi-socket Nehalem EX server processor will begin production in the second half of 2009. The Nehalem-EX is an eight-core processor meant for servers with four or more processor sockets, for 32 or more cores of processing power.

He also disclosed for the first time that Intel is working on a Nehalem-EP processor codenamed “Jasper Forest” that is specifically designed for the embedded and storage applications markets. Intel already makes Xeons for the embedded market but they are based on the older architectures.

Gelsinger also announced the availability of a C++ Larrabee Prototype Library and a future parallel programming solution based on “Ct” technology, a compiler technology specifically designed for writing parallel applications. The first Larrabee discrete graphics products are due in the late 2009/2010 timeframe.

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