Intel previews next-gen Atom, updates Moblin

Chip architecture changes in 'Pineview' promise to boost performance, while the beta update to Moblin should let developers customise the Linux-based netbook platform's look and feel
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Intel on Tuesday gave the first preview of its next-generation Atom chip, with a more integrated design intended to improve performance and energy efficiency.

The company also launched the beta of version 2.0 of the Linux-based Moblin netbook platform, with a new interface.

The upcoming Atom chip, code-named 'Pineview', incorporates the memory controller and graphics chip onto a the same silicon as the processor, a more efficient design that should lower costs for system builders, lower energy consumption and improve performance, Intel said.

In current Atom-based systems, the memory controller and graphics circuitry are on a separate chip, as are the input-output (I/O) functions, for a total of three chips. The platform of which Pineview is a part, called 'Pine Trail', thus reduces the total number of chips from three to two, Intel said. The second Pine Trail chip, which provides I/O functions, is called 'Tiger Point'.

"We have a processor, we have a chipset, and we have an I/O hub. What we've done is reduce that three-chip partition to a two-chip partition," Noury Al-Khaledy, general manager of Nettop and Netbook Computing at Intel, said during a teleconference announcing the new platform.

The Pineview chip can rely on its own integrated graphics or work with third-party graphics chips such as Nvidia's ION, Al-Khaledy said.

Pine Trail is scheduled to be available in the fourth quarter of this year.

Atom currently powers the majority of netbooks, the fastest-growing segment of the PC market. Nearly one-fifth of all laptops shipped in the first quarter of 2009 were netbooks, according to DisplaySearch.

The first beta version of Moblin 2.0, also introduced on Tuesday, brings in a new user interface called the M-zone, or 'My Zone'. This replaces the standard desktop with a tab-based display that provides direct access to email, instant messaging and social-networking sites such as Facebook.

Moblin also now allows computer makers to customise the software's look and feel, said Intel, which handed over stewardship of the platform's development to the Linux Foundation in April. The open-source software platform is specifically tailored for use on Intel's Atoms.

Moblin currently competes with Windows XP and other versions of Linux on netbooks and on mini-desktops called "nettops". Al-Khaledy said Intel is currently seeing 20 or 25 percent market share for Moblin on netbooks and nettops.

IDC, however, said it expects Windows to increasingly dominate the netbook market, with all versions of Linux combined to account for 4.5 percent of netbooks shipping this year.

The beta test version of Moblin 2.0 is available immediately and can be downloaded from the Moblin website.

Intel Pineview

The Pineview model of Atom will integrate the memory controller and the graphics chip, with the aim of creating a more-efficient design that will cost PC makers less to use
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