Atom CPUs to get fast-track upgrades

Intel’s low-power Atom processors are to receive a rapid series of upgrades over the coming years.

Atom CPUs to get fast-track upgrades

Corporate vice president Stephen L. Smith detailed the company’s intentions at IDF in San Francisco, saying Atom was set for a performance boost.

“When we first introduced Atom it was thought of as a lower-end product that should be lower cost,” explained Smith. “Performance was not the essence of the product.”

“But as we’ve shifted into smartphones and tablets we really do care about performance, so we have a strategic need to get an advantage.”

Accordingly, the Atom roadmap has been accelerated. Hitherto, Atom processors have lagged behind Intel’s mainstream processors in terms of design and process size. But the range is set to receive a new 22nm design in 2013 (dubbed Silvermont), with a 14nm design known as Airmont to follow in 2014.

The aim is not only to ramp up performance and power efficiency, but also to bring Atom into step with Core and Xeon processors

The aim is not only to ramp up performance and power efficiency, but also to bring Atom into step with Core and Xeon processors, to allow a more integrated approach to design and manufacturing across all three platforms. To help the process along, Intel has formally integrated the design teams for these different product ranges into one unit.

Blurring the lines

The merging isn’t solely for the purpose of improving Atom. Intel hopes Core and Xeon processors will also benefit from the Atom team’s experience with designs that slash power consumption by combining many system components onto the die.

“The lines between traditional processors and SoC [system-on-a-chip] designs are blurring. We can integrate more and more, and things are trending towards that SoC kind of design,” Smith commented. “We want to make sure we have [Atom’s] very low power and fine-grained power management available to us in the mainstream.”

Asked whether Intel could realistically catch up with ARM – currently the industry standard for mobile processors – Smith suggested that the recently introduced 32nm Medfield platform showed that it could be done.

“We’ve focused traditionally more on the PC space and the server space,” he pointed out. “But we’ve been on this path to have Atom processors directly competitive with other low power implenentations – and I think you’ll see with Medfield that we’ve gotten there.”

Smith acknowledged that Atom has not so far been a commercial success in the smartphone and handset tablets, but insisted that it had evolved into a credible, competitive platform.

“The world will understand that when they can actually buy these as finished consumer goods,” he assured delegates. “And that’s still a little bit ahead of us.”

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