Intel’s next-gen netbook chips revealed

Due before year’s end, Atom 400- and 500-series ‘Pineview’ processors clock remain pegged at 1.66GHz but boost performance and battery life due to a streamlined two-chip design.
Intel’s next generation of Atom processors will remain true to the philosophy of emphasising efficiency over raw power.

First firm details of the new Pineview processors have started coming through, with three chips all pegged at the same 1.66GHz as the current Atom N280 (which is a tweak of the original 1.66GHz N270 found in most netbooks).

The netbooks of 2010, which we can expect to see before Christmas, will shift to the Atom N400. The spec sheet reads like the safest form of Hollywood sequel – just serve up more of the same. That means a single core 1.66GHz backed by 512Kb of cache with a 2GB memory ceiling with RAM clocked at 667MHz.

The real gains will come with the move from today’s three-chip design shift to a streamlined two-chip system. The N400 integrates the processor, graphics and memory controller onto a single 45nm chip.

Intel’s choice of graphics engine shifts from the GMA950 to the GMA500 used in the chipset of the Atom Z500 series, although this will be clocked at 200MHz against the GMA950’s 133GHz. Manufacturers will also be able to add an optional off-package HD graphics decoder chip from Broadcom to handle video up to 1080p HD.

The CPU is paired to Intel’s NM10 Express chipset (codenamed ‘Tigerpoint’) for I/O via a point-to-point Direct Media Interface (DMI) link. That combo is known as the Pinetrail platform, which will be available in both mobile (Pinetrail-M) and desktop (Pinetrail-D) versions.

The two-chip design makes for substantially smaller package size and lower power consumption. The current three-chip Atom system totals 2601mm², compared to just 773mm² for Pineview-M.

The package isn’t only a third of the size, it also draws half the power: the CPU’s own drain drops from an average 4 watts to 2 watts while overall TDP (Thermal Design Power) falls from 16 watts to 7 watts. This will lead to longer battery life, an increase in fanless systems and potentially slimmer netbook designs.

Intel will also seek to promote two desktop versions of the new processors into low cost all-in-one designs, primarily as desktop PCs but also into systems like home servers which can benefit from their reduced size and thermals.

The single-core Atom D410 and dual-core Atom D510 are identical to the N450, bar the D510’s twin cores and subsequent doubling of cache to 1MB.

BY David Flynn

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