Intel has announced a new brand, Atom, for a family of low-power processors set to ship in the coming months. Atom, comprising the processors codenamed Silverthorne and Diamondville, represents the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker's biggest push yet in the familiar mobile Internet device (MID) and ultra-mobile personal computer (UMPC) space, but also the beginning of the hype for two new, cheap, Internet-centric categories Intel hopes capture the imagination -- the "netbook" and the "nettop."
"The Atom processor family covers MIDs, UMPCs, nettops and netbooks. That means that even very inexpensive desktop machines by the end of this year may feature Atom processors," an Intel spokesman said Monday.
The development of the Atom family proceeded counter to the traditional path that processor technology follows at Intel, where new architectures are first designed for the most expensive, powerful chips then trickle down to low-cost, less powerful devices, Intel spokesman Bill Calder said.
"Typically, it flows from the top of food chain. But in this case, here's an architecture that has been designed from the ground up for these specific devices," Calder said.
The "specific devices" include "a new class of simple and affordable Internet-centric computers" that Intel defines as "low-cost, Internet-centric mobile computing devices dubbed 'netbooks' and basic Internet-centric desktop PCs dubbed 'nettops.'"
The chip giant believes that netbooks in particular will have a huge impact on both mature and developing markets, Calder said, adding that system builder and reseller channels should benefit.
"We think netbooks are a tens-of-millions of units opportunity by 2011," he said, noting that Intel CEO Paul Otellini planned to say as much at Wednesday's Financial Analyst Day.
The Atom brand also ties in with a new MID platform initiative announced by Intel Sunday. Intel Centrino Atom is essentially the platform codenamed Menlow, which includes the newly branded Atom processors and the chipset codenamed Poulsbo. To qualify for the Centrino Atom brand, builders of MIDs must include a low-power integrated graphics chip and wireless connectivity in "a thinner and lighter" form factor" -- or "one that fits in your pocket," Calder said.
Intel Atom processors, manufactured on the chipmaker's latest 45nm process, maintain the Core 2 Duo instruction set to include support for multi-threading, according to Intel. The chips are "Intel's smallest and lowest power processor yet," with thermals in the 0.6-2.5 watt range. Clock speeds will reach 1.8GHz at the top end, Intel said in a statement.
Pricing is not yet available, Calder said. He tipped Q2 for the first shipments of MIDs built on Atom, with the first of the new netbook- and nettop-class products hitting shelves in Q3.