Intel speeds Atom roadmap to fend off ARM

Intel is pushing back against ARM with an aggressive development plan for its Atom processors and an ambitious scheme to lower the average amount of heat generated by its chips

Intel plans to speed the pace at which it develops new microprocessors to improve its "inadequate" roadmap and fend off low-powered rival ARM.

Paul Otellini Intel CEO

Intel chief executive Paul Otellini has said the company plans to speed the pace at which it develops new microprocessors to improve its "inadequate" roadmap. Photo credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET News

Speaking at the chip giant's annual investor meeting in Santa Clara, California on Tuesday, chief executive Paul Otellini said, "we decided, looking forward, that our roadmap was inadequate", according to ComputerWorld.

He said Intel will fast-track the production of new Atom processors to more advanced manufacturing technologies in a bid to drive down the power consumption of new chips.

Consumers can expect Intel to bring out 32nm Atom-based chips, dubbed Saltwell, in 2011 or 2012, with 22mn Silvermont due in 2013 and 14nm Airmont in 2014, Otellini said.

According to ZDNet UK's sister site CNET News, Silvermont will be based on the Tri-Gate transistor design Intel unveiled in early May.

The roadmap announcement is a departure from Intel's tick-tock methodology of microprocessor manufacturing. Typically, Intel likes to put a known architecture into production when the node size changes, such as the tick of Westmere on 32nm, then introduce a new architecture on the same node, as with the tock of Sandy Bridge, before changing to the next node down.

Atom will now introduce a fresh design with each new node. This will accelerate the transition between nodes, so that by 2014 both Atom and the Xeon/Core processors will come out on the same 14nm node at roughly the same time.

Lowering power consumption

Along with this, the company hopes to lower the power consumption of its mainstream chips from a midpoint of around 35 to 40W, down to a thermal design power (TDP) of around 15W, so as to become more competitive in the mobile device market, specifically for netbooks. Lowering TDP is one of the main ways to get the most out of battery life.

For perspective, the A5 ARM processor used in the iPad 2 is a dual-core device thought to operate with a typical TDP of around half a watt. Intel's latest dual-core Atom design, the N570, has a specified TDP of 8.5 watts.

But even if Intel cannot gain a foothold in the mobile devices themselves, it can grow in the datacentres that feed them data, the company says. Otellini noted that one server is required to support 600 smartphones or 122 tablets, so even if the mobile device market explodes with ARM-based chips, Intel will grow by supplying processor architectures for the back-end infrastructure.

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