Intel Unveils New Atom Architecture For Mobile Devices, Low-Power Servers

During a webcast Monday, the world's biggest chip maker provided details about its new "Silvermont" system-on-a-chip (SoC) architecture, which Intel is aiming at everything from smartphones to servers. The 22-nm platform will offer substantial improvements over previous generation Atom chips, including five times lower power consumption and a three-fold performance increase.

"For Intel, this is one of the biggest innovations of its product lines," said Dadi Perlmutter, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Architecture Group.

Intel didn't divulge the maximum clock speed or power threshold of the Silvermont architecture, but the company did say the new SoC will utilize a new out-of-order (OoO) execution engine to boost performance, as well as new multi-core and system fabric architecture that's scalable up to eight cores.

Perlmutter said the Silvermont architecture was designed to be flexible and scalable enough to meet both a variety of systems as well as vertical industry needs. Belli Kuttanna, chief architect of Intel's Atom family, said Silvermont platforms will be able to transfer horsepower from the CPU speed to graphics performance and vice versa, depending on the system's needs or applications being run.

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Intel's Atom chip is synonymous with the company's dying Netbook category, but the chip maker said it will make Silvermont the cornerstone of a range of new processor products that will hit the market later this year, including its "Bay Trail" and "Merrifield" processors.

The quad-core "Bay Trail" SoC, which is scheduled for holiday release, is designed for next-generation tablets and will double the compute performance capability of Intel's current-generation tablet offering, according to the company. Intel also said Silvermont's flexible nature will allow variations of Bay Trail to be used for laptops and desktops.

"Merrifield," meanwhile, is Intel's forthcoming successor to its "Medfield" Atom for tablets and smartphones. The Merrifield SoC is designed for high-performance smartphones and expected to ship by the end of the year.

The Silvermont-based Atom chips could see their way into servers soon after that with Intel's "Avoton" processor, the second-generation version of the Atom SoC for micro-servers. But, whether or not Silvermont processor will be able to make the leap into the data center remains to be seen.

"There's definitely some logic to using the Atom processor for applications and specific types of servers that require lower power," said Jon Layish, president of Red Barn Computer Technology, a system builder based in Binghamton, N.Y. "I certainly don't think there's a negative brand association for Atom with the Netbook so it will be interesting to see how the [Silvermont does] in that space."