updated 05:55 pm EDT, Mon September 28, 2009
Intel plans more frequent Atom updates
Intel will more aggressively update the Atom processor than it has in the past, executive VP Sean Maloney said in an interview published today. The company waited roughly a year between the original Atom launch and its Z500 upgrade but now plans to put it more closely on the faster "tick tock" pattern it uses for regular processors, where it first shrinks the manufacturing process for an existing design and later ships a new architecture built on that process. Such upgrades will start in earnest with Pine Trail this fall, which technically achieves both by moving to a smaller 45 nanometer design and moving the graphics core to within the processor.
The primary goal of the move is speed, Maloney tells CNET, though battery life may often go up as a consequence. The Atom processor hasn't exceeded 2GHz since it launched and has particularly suffered in video performance, which in an all-Intel design hasn't been powerful enough to accelerate HD video or support most modern 3D graphics. Pine Trail's core is significantly improved in both areas and should be faster both through its new design as well as much quicker path for data sent between the CPU and the graphics core.
Quicker upgrades should head off immediate threats from AMD's Athlon Neo but should also minimize the impact of PC builders using alternative graphics options like NVIDIA's Ion. An update next year known as Moorestown will be the most significant as a shrink to 32nm, along with other improvements, could make it the first Atom chip viable for average-sized smartphones.