updated 12:40 pm EDT, Mon April 11, 2011
Intel ships Oak Trail Atom, hints Cedar Trail
Intel on Monday finally began shipping its first Oak Trail chip, the Atom Z670, and gave a preview of its next-generation Cedar Trail platform. The more tablet-ready processor, first unveiled a year ago, is due to reach its first shipping devices in May. Most of the first batch will include Windows-based tablets like the ASUS Eee Slider as well as the Samsung Sliding PC 7.
Oak Trail is designed to consume less heat and space than existing Atoms at about a 60 percent shrink compared to old models, with so little power draw that it can sometimes go without a fan. Deeper sleep cuts off power to more of the chip when it's not active and prevents the battery from draining too much simply while it's in standby. A new graphics core also significantly improves performance in some areas: it can now decode 1080p video and supports HDMI video out. The design isn't locked into Windows and should support platforms like Android and Intel's own MeeGo.
Cedar Trail will in turn improve the overall speed and battery design once again. The chip will run on an efficient 32nm process and should speed up graphics on a wider level, bringing in Blu-ray 2.0 and DisplayPort. They should also bring WiDi (Wireless Display) to netbook- and tablet-class hardware for the first time as well as Wireless Music, an AirPlay-like feature for streaming audio.
Support will also be in place for hardware-linked syncing between multiple computers as well as faster boot times. More designs will go fanless, get longer battery life, or both.
The first Cedar Trail hardware should ship in the second half of this year. As part of the introductions, Intel signaled that it was aware of the deficit in mobile processors and was stepping up the development of the Atom to "move faster than Moore's law" by having three new processes in three years.
Intel has faced mounting calls to improve its performance after it was effectively caught off-guard by the rise of the smartphone and, later, tablets like the iPad. ARM processors aren't necessarily as fast as Intel chips on equal footing but, even compared to Oak Trail, consume much less power and more recently have had dual-core designs and superior graphics power that wouldn't be viable in an Intel-based tablet. Its lack of an offering has led Microsoft to support ARM in Windows 8 in a bid to get Windows competitive with iOS and Android devices on battery life.