Intel announces 'Pine Trail' Atom processors in time for CES; has the netbook grown up?

Intel announces 'Pine Trail' Atom processors in time for CES; has the netbook grown up?

Summary: Intel announced the next generation of its Atom netbook processors, dubbed "Pine Trail," which feature integrated graphics built directly into the CPU, improved performance and a smaller, more energy- efficient design.

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Intel on Monday announced the next generation of its Atom netbook processors, dubbed "Pine Trail," which feature integrated graphics built directly into the CPU, improved performance and a smaller, more energy- efficient design.

The announcement comes just before the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show, where new netbooks, nettops and other entry-level systems offering the chips are expected to be announced.

The new netbook platform is comprised of the new Intel Atom N450 processor (512K L2 cache; 7 watt total kit TDP) and NM10 Express Chipset. For desktops, it's the Atom D410 (512K L2 cache; 12 watt total kit TDP) or dual-core D510 processor (1MB L2 cache; 15-watt total kit TDP) with the NM10 Express Chipset.

Intel says:

One of the most significant features of the new platform is the integration of memory controller and graphics into the CPU, a first in the industry on x-86 chips. That means two chips (CPU+chipset) instead of the previous three (CPU, chipset, I/O controller hub), a lower TDP, and substantial reductions in cost, overall footprint and power. The netbook platform features a 20 percent improvement in average power and a smaller package size over the previous Atom platform. This translates into smaller and more compact system designs and longer battery life. Because of the integration, the total footprint for the netbook platform has decreased by approximately 60 percent. For entry level desktop PCs, it's a nearly 70 percent reduction in footprint and about 50 percent lower TDP than the previous generation.

The 1.66GHz chips are designed for small devices, low-power applications and built on the company's 45nm high-k metal gate manufacturing process.

The question: Can Intel make netbooks and nettops more than a fad?

The new chips come into play just as ultra-low voltage, or ULV, processors are gaining favor among manufacturers for offering more power than the Atom.

Atom-powered Netbooks took off because they were affordable, small (7 in. to 10.2. in., says Intel), and basic secondary systems.

Now Atom processors have become more powerful, though still not equal to ULV chips. How will manufacturers differentiate Atom and ULV for consumers?

Is there such a thing as a tertiary PC?

The magnitude of this challenge is massive. Since introduction, Intel has shipped over 40 million Atom chips for netbooks around the world. Total Atom shipments for all segments are expected to continue to grow into the 100s of millions by 2011, according to ABI Research.

All the major players will be using Atoms in new systems: Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Dell, MSI, Toshiba, Samsung and Fujitsu. It certainly doesn't hurt, performance-wise, that Windows 7 is now out in the wild.

The key market to watch is the mobile broadband market. Mobile carriers such as T-Mobile and Verizon have been really pushing the cheap-with-an-expensive-mobile-plan netbook, and that might offer much more room for growth than the traditional computing market.

What is a netbook? Is it a small screen, or an Atom processor? Does it require poor performance? Or is it just a lower price point than a ULV system?

The definitions of a netbook and nettop are rapidly changing. We'll see the results at next month's Consumer Electronics Show.

Topics: Hardware, Intel, Mobility, Processors

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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