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Intel Intros Atom Processors

Intel Intros Atom Processors

At its second Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai, chip developer Intel officially took the wraps off its new Atom line of low power processors, designed to drive mobile Internet-enabled devices and other in-pocket, connected devices. Previously code-named "Silverthorne" and "Menlow," the new Atom chips should be available later this year, and will be manufactured using Intel’s 45nm process with hi-k metal gate technology similar to that used in the company’s high-end processors.

"This is our smallest processor built with the world’s smallest transistors," said Intel executive VP and chief sales and marketing officer Sean Maloney, in a statement. "This small wonder is a fundamental new shift in design, small yet powerful enough to enable a big Internet experience on these new devices. We believe it will unleash new innovation across the industry."

The Atom processors are based on Intel’s IA-32 architecture, which is a bit behind the system architecture used in the company’s Core 2 line currently dominating Intel’s desktop and notebook processor lines. However, the Atom CPU’s x86 instruction set is compatible with PC software, enabling the chips to run mainstream Internet technology like Flash, Java, and modern Web browsers. Even better, the processors have light power draws, ranging from just 0.65 to 2.4 Watts, and run at speeds from 800 MHz all the way up to 1.86 GHz.

Atom CPUs will be available in two flavors: one intended for use in embedded systems that’s just the CPU, and another Atom Centrino model that includes an integrated graphics controller (dubbed the Intel System Controller Hub), and is designed to drive mobile Internet devices with integrated displays.

The Atom processors represent a fundamental new market for Intel, and puts it into direct competition with companies like ARM which have long been players in the mobile and embedded devices market. By bringing its x86 architecture to low power, portable processors, Intel hopes to leverage the mammoth amount of developer talent and existing software available for PCs. Where developers now often have to re-architect PC software for use on mobile devices, Intel touts the Atom line as a way to bring the desktop PC experience directly to mobile devices—something that’s sure to appeal to both programmers and device manufacturers.

Intel expects Atom processors will be at the hearts of new Internet-centric mobile Internet devices that will reach consumers later this year.

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